Should top students who are interested in both career technology fields, like engineering, and advanced academic courses, like physics, have to choose between them?

That’s what happens in a lot of high schools. Career technology is seen by some as a less academic track, but a new partnership of two top education groups that create high school courses wants to change that.

Choosing between career-oriented and academic electives isn’t easy, said Steve Rogers, chairman of the engineering and technology department at Warren Township’s Walker Career Center. Sometimes parents shy away from courses they aren’t sure will look challenging to a college or employer.

“But when you can have documentation for parents to say, you know, you should take both, then we won’t have stigma that engineering classes aren’t the same relevance as physics classes,” Rogers said.

That’s the idea behind a partnership between the College Board, creator of the SAT and Advanced Placement classes, and Project Lead The Way, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that develops curriculum for applied science and project-based classes.

The partnership would create new high school class sequences, or “pathways,” of both AP and Project Lead The Way classes and give students a certificate to show colleges they’ve completed a demanding course load.

“It is very much focused on pathways and helping kids not just do this once, but do this over time and invest in this and get the kind of preparation to build the confidence to find that this is the thing they are going to fall in love with,” said Anna Jones, senior vice president for Project Lead The Way.

Project Lead The Way moved its headquarters from upstate New York to Indianapolis in 2011. Its CEO, Vince Bertram, was named to the Indiana State Board of Education by Gov. Mike Pence earlier this week.

The organization seeks to encourage more students to study science and math by creating classwork that is rooted in problem-solving and applying the subjects to real life. Schools that participate pay a yearly fee for the curriculum, between $2,000 and $3,000. More than 400 schools in the state offer Project Lead The Way classes.

College Board is headquartered in New York and has been around for more than 100 years. The nonprofit writes tests, designs curriculum for Advanced Placement classes and offers resources for parents and students planning for college.

The partnership between the two would be fairly straightforward, Jones said.

The companies would take the existing Project Lead The Way programs — in engineering, biomedical science and computer science — and create options for how AP science and math classes could fit in. For example, a student might be on the Project Lead The Way engineering track and take introduction to engineering and principles of engineering as well as AP Physics.

Students who complete a combination of at least three AP and Project Lead The Way classes will earn the recognition certificate beginning in 2016. To be eligible, however, they must pass all the classes and earn a passing score of three, four or five out of five on an AP exam.

“This credential is designed to value the work that our students are doing that are participating in AP and Project Lead The Way,” Jones said. “So it really is building, frankly, the strength of both organizations.”

Showing the value of career tech classes

Rogers, who has worked as a Project Lead The Way teacher since 2003, said he likes that the pathways could be used to show parents how students could map out their classes during high school. That way, they might better understand what classes would help their kids succeed in college.

For many STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — professionals, that means both content-heavy AP classes and ones rooted in projects and problem solving like Project Lead The Way.

Oftentimes, Rogers said, it’s not clear to parents why students should forgo an AP or core academic class to try the Project Lead The Way classes. Universities typically count passing AP exam scores for college credit, but many don’t do the same for other courses. That means kids who take Project Lead The Way classes in engineering might be repeating basic skills classes in college.

“We have kids every year that take three, four, five (engineering) classes and go on to Purdue and Rose-Hulman (Institute of Technology) and really get no benefit,” Rogers said. “The class was a benefit, but nothing credit-wise to help the kids out.”

Edward Biedermann, with College Board, said the pathways might also help diversify both programs’ students.

“All too often we see some students think of themselves only as (career and technical education) students and not try to take AP, and other students may think of themselves as college-bound students who take AP and don’t focus on classes with applied learning,” Biedermann said. “This partnership is a way to get all types of students into an AP course that has the potential for college credit.”

Rogers said that though he’s just recently heard about the partnership, he thinks it has the potential to be mutually beneficial for students — AP kids can learn more about STEM careers they can pursue after high school, and Project Lead The Way kids focused on career and technical study, who might not be thinking of college, will be encouraged to earn college credit.

Plus, the new recognition might strike a chord with colleges and push them to cut repetitive introductory classes down the line, Rogers said, saving students time and money.

“It makes sense that we’re putting those courses together into more of a defined pathway because, let’s be honest, they need AP Physics, they need AP Chemistry,” Rogers said. “They might as well see it now when they’re in a class of 20 because they’ll take freshman chemistry in a lab, and it could be 200 kids at Purdue.”