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Public Secondary School Teacher Survey on Vocational Education
NCES: 94409
February 1994

Vocational Education Course Content and Activities

Teachers were also asked to provide additional information about the length of the class, activities and teaching methods used, specific material covered, and interaction with other teachers for the first class taught in their primary teaching assignment.

Class Length

The difference between academic and vocational courses in average hours per week that the class met (5 hours and 7 hours, respectively) during the fall of 1992 is due to differences in vocational schools (Figure 6). Students in vocational courses in vocational high schools spent considerably more time in one course than students in vocational courses in comprehensive schools and in academic courses. The mean class hours per week for vocational courses taught in vocational high schools was 14; the mean class hours in vocational courses in comprehensive high schools was 5, while academic courses averaged 5 hours per week.

Classroom Activities and Teaching Methods

Teachers were asked to indicate whether six classroom activities had and taken place when the class last met: a lecture; students using computers; students using instruments, tools, or equipment; students writing a paragraph or more; teachers assigning homework; and a test or quiz.

About three-fourths (76 percent) of vocational teachers indicated that there had been a lecture during the last class, and in 73 percent of the classes students had engaged in activities involving the use of instruments, tools, or equipment (Table 9). Fewer than half of vocational teachers indicated that students had used computers (40 percent), written a paragraph or more (41 percent), taken a test or quiz (43 percent), or been assigned homework (45 percent).

Vocational courses differed somewhat from academic courses in terms of the activities and teaching methods employed during class. The three most notable differences were in the areas of assigning homework, students" use of instruments, and students" use of computers. Over three-quarters (81 percent) of the academic course teachers had assigned homework, while less than half (45 percent) of teachers in vocational courses had done so. In contrast, in nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of vocational courses students were required to use some kind of instruments, tools, or equipment, while only about one-third (37 percent) of academic courses involved any kind of equipment usage. Finally, only 13 percent of academic courses had included computer usage as a class activity, while in 40 percent of vocational courses students had used computers.

With respect to the remaining activities that occurred during class time -- teacher lectures, students writing a paragraph or more, and the administration of a test or quiz -- few differences were found. A majority of both academic and vocational courses had included lectures (75 and 76 percent respectively), and tests or quizzes had been administered in 42 percent of academic and 43 percent of vocational courses. However, while approximately half (54 percent) of academic courses had involved students writing a paragraph when the class last met, this was true for only 41 percent of vocational courses.

An examination of differences across vocational courses with regard to classroom activities and methods reveals some variation by type of school. Vocational courses in vocational high schools were somewhat more likely than those in comprehensive schools to have involved a lecture (87 versus 74 percent) and student use of tools or equipment (87 versus 69 percent) when the class last met.


Vocational courses differed from academic courses in terms of whether or not homework was assigned (Table 10). While homework was assigned in nearly all academic classes (95 percent), it was assigned in no more than 59 percent of vocational classes. Also, the homework assigned in vocational classes required less time for completion than academic class homework: 2 hours versus 3 hours over a 5-day period (Figure 7).

Course differences were found in terms of the kinds of activities assigned for homework. A fairly high percentage of homework for both vocational and academic courses required reading assignments (69 percent overall). An even higher percentage (83 percent) of vocational courses in vocational high schools involved reading assignments. In contrast, 32 percent of homework for academic courses involved essay writing, while only 16 percent of homework for vocational courses required such work. Homework assigned in vocational courses involved using basic mathematical computations 40 percent of the time, while homework in academic courses involved less use of basic mathematical computation (27 percent). However, homework for academic courses did require a higher percentage of advanced mathematical or scientific problem solving (24 percent) than homework for vocational courses (10 percent). A much higher percentage of homework assigned in vocational courses involved use of nonacademic skills (41 percent) than that assigned in academic classes (5 percent). Vocational courses taught in vocational high schools required an even higher percentage of the use of job skills in homework (49 percent) than those taught in comprehensive high schools (39 percent).

Use of Assessments

Teachers were asked how often during the current grading period they planned to conduct each of five assessments: a quiz, written examination, performance test, portfolio of best work, or some other formal assessment. These responses were examined in terms of whether or not each of these assessments was to be used at least once during the fall 1992 grading period.

Vocational teachers indicated that they were most likely to use written examinations (88 percent), performance tests (88 percent), and quizzes (85 percent; Table 11 and Figure 8). More than half (63 percent) also planned to administer some other formal assessment, and 45 percent would evaluate student performance by assessing student portfolios.

Academic teachers were similar to vocational teachers with reportedly high use of quizzes and written examinations (90 and 93 percent, respectively). They were also about equally likely to utilize some other formal assessment (62 percent compared with 63 percent for vocational teachers). However, academic teachers were less likely to evaluate their students on the basis of a performance test or portfolios (66 and 35 percent, respectively, compared with 88 and 45 percent for vocational teachers).