District Trendline

Admissions requirements: Following the lead of state policy?

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In most conversations regarding strengthening the teacher workforce, two themes dominate the narrative: increasing teacher quality and diversifying the profession. Both are vital to improving student learning—yet, while the issues are complex, they are often needlessly viewed as competing aims.

With districts working hard to diversify their teacher workforce—a genuine and important concern—they must pay close attention to the admissions requirements set by states and teacher preparation programs, or they run the risk of standing at the receiving end of policies that can compromise the academic skills of teacher applicants.

In the last two months, NCTQ released two new sets of data that are relevant to this discussion. First, the latest Teacher Prep Review looks at the intersection between educator prep programs' diversity in enrollment and their admissions standards, finding plenty of evidence of programs that are both diverse and sufficiently selective. Second, our breakdown of the latest trends in state policies governing the preparation of new teachers documented the swift withdrawal of some academic screening by some states.

In this District Trendline, we unpack the new data from these two NCTQ reports, as well as the latest Title II data, in order to discern 1) if state policies do indeed have an impact on who enters teacher preparation, and 2) the impact of program admissions requirements on teacher candidate enrollment.

Some of our findings may prove illuminating, if not surprising:

  • State admissions requirements serve as a practical framework for the admissions requirements of their teacher prep programs—regardless of the strength of the policy itself.
  • In the absence of state guidance, most teacher preparation programs still have relatively strong (i.e. more selective) admissions requirements.
  • Lowering state admission requirements does not appear to have a causal effect on the diversity of teacher candidate enrollment.

Do state requirements for grade point averages (GPA) make a difference?

As we reported last month in State of the States 2021: Teacher Preparation Policy, less than a third of states still have a policy requiring teacher candidates to pass a basic skills test before entering an educator preparation program. Ten states have lowered their basic skills test requirements since 2015.

In the absence of this test, some states allow programs to consider the GPA of incoming teacher candidates as a criteria for admission to teacher preparation. As of 2020, 11% of states either require a minimum GPA of individual applicants or a minimum cohort GPA that is comparable to the average GPA of all college students (3.0 or a B average). The remaining states either set a GPA requirement that is lower than the average or none at all.

These state requirements are often not binding, because they are only one of multiple measures a teacher preparation program can use when considering admittance. In three out of the four states that require an individual 3.0 GPA, for example, academic proficiency can also be demonstrated by other measures, such as college entrance tests, or in some cases, the requirement can be waived

This means that the vast majority of elementary teacher preparation programs in our sample188 are located in states with lower-than-average or no GPA requirements, which heightens the relevance of the admissions requirements set by the programs themselves.

Even though states' GPA requirements are generally only one of several options aspiring teachers can use to gain admittance, programs tend to follow the state's lead when it comes to setting their own GPA admissions requirements. The following graph combines NCTQ state and program data to illustrate how programs frequently adhere to the GPA bar set by the state.

For example, in states that require at least a 3.0 GPA for admission, usually as one of several options a program can use by way of academic screens, the largest proportion of programs will also use a 3.0 GPA as an admissions requirement.

This continues to hold true as the state GPA standard decreases. In states that set the required GPA for teacher preparation program admission below 2.75, equivalent to a B- average—again as one of several options a program can use—a plurality of programs set an equally low bar.

It's worth noting that in cases where the state sets a minimum GPA below 3.0 or sets no requirement at all, around 20% of programs still require a 3.0 GPA for admission. In particular, more than twice the proportion of programs set the highest GPA bar when there is no state guidance than when the state's guidance allows a GPA below 2.75 for admission.

What the disappearance of basic skills tests means for overall selectivity

The scaling back of basic skill test requirements over the last five years (40% of the states that required aspiring teacher candidates to pass a basic skills test have made the test optional, require it only after completion of the program, or have eliminated the requirement) suggests that states no longer appear as interested in pursuing higher academic standards for teacher prep program admissions, a once-top priority in the last decade. The following map illustrates the combination of state GPA and basic skills tests requirements, and what state policies could mean for overall selectivity into teacher preparation programs.

As with GPA requirements, combined state and program data demonstrates that, even though not binding, state guidance regarding admissions requirements serves as a practical framework for programs' admissions policies, regardless of the strength of the guidance itself. This pattern is both a problem and an opportunity.

The following graph shows that where state admissions guidelines are stronger, a greater proportion of programs have reasonably sufficient189 admissions standards (whether by their own design or their institution's selectivity), but as state admissions guidelines become more lax, a greater proportion of programs fail the admissions standard.

Notably, almost 60% of the elementary teacher preparation programs in states that offer no guidance still manage to score a B or above in NCTQ's admissions standard by virtue of their own requirements or those of the institutions of higher education that house them.

Effects of state policies on enrollment

Whether because programs disagree with the state's approach, or because state standards are usually not binding, the effects of the relaxation of states' admissions policies on what happens in their teacher prep enrollments are mixed, especially when it comes to recruiting for a more racially diverse cohort of teacher candidates.

The two graphs below depict 1) whether states saw an increase (blue) or decrease (red) in enrollment, and 2) the magnitude of that increase or decrease, arranged by the state's change in admissions policy, for all enrollment as compared to enrollment of candidates of color, according to our analysis of the last five years of Title II data on enrollment into teacher preparation programs.

The proportion of states that saw increases in total enrollment into teacher preparation programs is larger for those who did not relax admissions requirements (whether by lowering GPA, eliminating basic skills tests, or both) than for those who did, which would suggest that the relaxation of admissions requirements isn't a necessary pathway to increase the overall teacher candidate pool.

When looking at enrollment data for all teacher candidates compared to teacher candidates of color, the one difference between both groups is that a decrease in enrollment of candidates of color happens in more states that relaxed their admissions requirements (six instead of five). Furthermore, the magnitude of that decrease (-26%) is larger than the one experienced in their overall enrollment (-18%).

Conclusions and recommendations

This analysis leads to three important conclusions.

First, districts looking for partnerships are better off looking specifically at what the programs are doing to screen incoming students, rather than assuming that their state's admissions guidance prevails. It also appears to be better for states to offer no guidance at all than to set a low bar. In the states which don't set standards, a higher percentage of programs are likely to establish higher admissions requirements than in states where the standards are weak.

Second, evidence shows that even when states' academic standards are non-binding (as there's a menu of different options available for programs to choose from), they still provide a practical framework that teacher preparation programs tend to fall within, whether the state standards are weak or strong.

And finally, states that lowered admissions standards, likely as a move to address teacher shortages or the perception that it would grow the diversity of the workforce, achieved very mixed results, especially when comparing those states to other states which did not lower their standards. Therefore, as there seems to be many other factors at play, one cannot conclude that in order to increase the supply of teachers, and in particular the enrollment of teachers of color, it is necessary to lower the admissions bar.