North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Division


Organization Profile: The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Division is responsible for implementing the state’s career and technical education curriculum, which primarily benefits secondary school students. The CTE Division develops, disseminates, and implements the CTE curriculum and evaluates student achievement using the Vocational Competency Achievement Tracking System (VoCATS).

Program Structure/Design: VoCATS is a competency-based instruction management system that supports North Carolina’s public school career and technical education (CTE) program. North Carolina’s public school CTE program is based on the state’s career clusters model. VoCATS is used throughout the state, primarily by high school CTE (i.e., vocational) teachers, counselors, and administrators for:

  • Course and lesson planning;
  • Student assessment before, during, and after instruction;
  • Documentation of student achievement, including evaluation of the mastery of required competencies; and
  • Accountability and generating reports by student, teacher, class, school, and district.

All VoCATS materials are available throughout the state and are distributed electronically for use by teachers, counselors, administrators, and other instructional support personnel. Four interrelated products are supported and available through VoCATS:

  1. Course blueprints;
  2. Aligned curriculum documents;
  3. Classroom assessment banks; and
  4. Accountability assessment banks.

Course blueprints are the starting point for VoCATS. Each blueprint lists the standards, specific competencies, and objectives that a student should master as a result of completing a course. In other words, each course blueprint outlines what students should know and be able to do as a result of completing that course.

Teams of teachers and state program consultants develop, maintain, and update VoCATS course blueprints. Business and industry representatives validate these blueprints. Course documents also include weighted objectives that indicate the relative importance of items, as well as activities that integrate CTE content with traditional academic areas such as mathematics and language arts. Blueprints are available for virtually all CTE courses included in the North Carolina Standard Course of Study.

Aligned curriculum documents build out course blueprints by providing classroom teachers with curriculum guides that contain practical instructional tools for meeting each course’s objectives. These curriculum documents support the blueprint for each course by listing textbooks, classroom activities, and other materials that can help teachers instruct students to achieve mastery of stated objectives and competencies. These curriculum guides also include detailed information on course units of instruction. VoCATS currently includes more than 100 curriculum guides.

Classroom assessment banks are available for each course and provide test items aligned to course objectives and competencies. Teachers use these assessment banks to pretest students, conduct interim assessments, and develop practice tests and study guides. The number of items per objective in each classroom assessment bank reflects the weighted degree of importance assigned to that objective in the course blueprint.

Accountability assessment banks contain statewide tests administered to all students enrolled in a particular course. These tests adhere to strict standards for item validity and reliability. In addition to measuring student achievement, the CTE accountability assessments are used to provide improvement data for schools and classrooms and to help meet local, state, and federal accountability requirements, including those of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 (P. L. 109-270), commonly referred to as “Perkins IV.”

Because VoCATS curriculum and accountability resources are available via the internet to educators and administrators in every school district in the state, each student involved in CTE coursework benefits from the tools and services available through this system. This inclusion encompasses various special populations of students, including students with disabilities (27% are full time in VoCATS). As with all other CTE students, VoCATS course planning and assessment is conducted for students with disabilities, including youth with the most severe disabilities. As a result of such evaluation, most students with disabilities will be mainstreamed in CTE courses.

North Carolina has worked at developing and enhancing VoCATS for more than 30 years. Initially, VoCATS primarily served as a curriculum tool for classroom teachers to help them improve student learning. Increasingly over the past decade, VoCATS has come to also assume a significant role in the CTE learning accountability process. As a result, today the system’s curriculum and accountability components work together in an integrated way.

States of Operation: NC
ODEP Funded: No


School-Based Preparatory Experiences: North Carolina’s career and technical education is based on the state’s career clusters model. VoCATS offers competency-based courses in eight CTE program areas:

  • Agriculture education;
  • Business and information technology education;
  • Career development;
  • Family and consumer sciences education;
  • Health occupations education;
  • Marketing education;
  • Technology education; and
  • Trade and industrial education.

Career exploration experiences may begin for middle school students in 6th, 7th, or 8th grade in some school districts. By 9th grade, each student enrolling in the CTE program in North Carolina participates in devising a career development plan that outlines courses to be taken and special services required. Teachers and counselors use VoCATS to help students develop these plans and students use the plans to obtain competencies and experiences to become successful in the workplace.

Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: Some North Carolina CTE courses include student involvement in work-based learning activities as a compulsory objective under their VoCATS course blueprint. Many other CTE courses list work-based learning as a recommended activity within their aligned curriculum.

Additional career exploration and preparation activities that teachers and counselors may use to help students identify preferences and interests include career assessments and interest inventories, employer site visits and job shadowing, and exposure to various postsecondary education options and opportunities. VoCATS-based CTE instruction also involves opportunities for students to learn, practice, and obtain various work readiness skills, such as those involving “work maturity” (e.g., punctuality; attendance; work attitudes, habits, and behaviors; appearance; interpersonal relations; and task completion) and “employability” (e.g., listening; speaking; organizing and planning; problem solving; adaptability and teamwork; and use of basic computer tools).

As a result of a 2010 directive from the North Carolina State Board of Education, all secondary students in North Carolina are to receive instruction that will prepare them to graduate career- and college-ready. Career preparation training through CTE serves as an enhancement to this college preparation imperative. Thus, CTE will supplement and not supplant college preparation education for North Carolina public high school students.


Data: In North Carolina, more than 500,000 middle and high school students each year take advantage of the opportunity to explore potential careers through CTE coursework. This number represents approximately one-third of the 1.5 million K-12 students who annually enroll in the state’s public schools. Specifically, at the secondary level, the North Carolina State Board of Education reports that more than 72% of high school students, or about 310,000 students, take CTE courses each year; and approximately 90 percent of students take at least one CTE course before they graduate. Overall, 80% of VoCATS students in 2008 were determined to be proficient in Technical Skill Attainment in their chosen subject area.

In 2008, approximately 27% of special education students in North Carolina were enrolled in VoCATS. Of those, 55.3% were determined to be proficient in technical skill attainment in their chosen subject area. Data prior to 2008 are not available, but state officials see this percentage trending up as supports and services for students with disabilities increase.

Organization Name: North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, Career and Technical Education (CTE) Division
Program Name: Vocational Competency Achievement Tracking System (VoCATS)
Street Address: NC Department of Public Instruction, Career and Technical Education, 6361 Mail Service Center
City: Raleigh
State: NC
ZIP: 27699-6361

Contact Person: Rebecca Payne
Contact Title: Director, CTE
Contact E-mail: