Leverage Perkins V for strong, positive outcomes

For reasons real and perceived, inclusive equitable access is not currently available to all students, especially students in special populations (SSP). This includes students with disabilities (SWD), English learners, those who are highly mobile, economically disadvantaged, those in single parent homes, who are in foster care, or have a parent who is in the armed forces or is currently deployed. For these students there are additional factors that may create barriers to successful postsecondary transitions.

The challenge is to provide strategies, accommodations and support to address these barriers as we prepare SSP to participate in CTE pathways. The goal: to ensure equitable access to postsecondary education and employment opportunities.

Access + equity + inclusion + standards = positive outcomes

For this article, we use Perkins V to frame the following definitions (see Figure 1).

  • Access: “A description of progress toward implementation of equal access to high quality career and technical education courses and programs of study for all students”
  • Equity:  “strategies to overcome barriers that result in lower rates of access to, or performance gaps in, the courses and programs for special populations”
  • Inclusion: “providing programs that are designed to enable special population to meet the local levels of performance”
  • Industry standards: “providing activities to prepare special populations for high-skill, high-wage, in-demand occupations in competitive integrated settings that will lead to self-sufficiency”

Together, these elements form a strong foundation that will serve, equitably, diverse populations — especially students with disabilities.

Flex individual strengths to meet collective needs.

To support the inclusion of students from special populations, we need to flex each other’s strengths. Career and technical education (CTE) and special education (SPED) teachers, counselors and students have complementary strengths. When used collaboratively, these collective can result in greater education and employment opportunities for every student.

CTE teachers

Demonstrate a strong understanding of industry standards and competencies. Working with SSP can be a challenge for CTE teachers. Students with learning disabilities generally have academic, physical or behavioral discrepancies that are two or more years behind their peers. They often require support or specialized instruction. CTE teachers need support to provide accommodations for SSP while adhering to industry standards.

SPED teachers

Possess an extensive understanding of students’ academic levels. Aid in delivery of specialized instruction. Navigate legal mandates to help students access opportunities. But, without an understanding of industry standards, SPED teachers cannot appropriately design instruction.


Explore scheduling options and explain available school and community support services to help students. Act as a bridge to help all parties understand the prerequisites for enrolling in CTE classes. Counselors need to know the CTE standards and available support services.

Students and families

Talk with teachers and counselors about expected standards, how to apply and how to access support services. SSP with knowledge of available options may take ownership in their choices, experience greater outcomes in CTE courses and work-based learning opportunities.

Working together

We can create equitable access for students while meeting mandates set forth in Perkins V. Support in both CTE and academic courses increases inclusion and access to work-based learning for SSP and especially for students with disabilities. Industry knowledge of the CTE teacher complements the specialized instructional knowledge of the SPED teacher and the ability to help the student connect to outside support services. SPED teachers get help understanding industry standards and CTE teachers get help delivering pedagogy with appropriate accommodations.

The collaborative outcome is a student better prepared for their future.

Shirley Dawson, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Weber State University. She researches and teaches courses in special education law, transition planning, and teacher development.

Melanie Allen, M.Ed, is a school special education teacher. She helps students and their parents explore their career options, determine goals, and facilitates school collaboration and interagency connections.

Adam King, M.S., is an assistant principal in Davis School District. He has also worked as a special education teacher and district SPED/504 coordinator.

The research reported for 2018–19 is supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R324L180011 to Weber State University. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.