The state should require alternate route programs to limit admission to candidates with strong academic backgrounds while also being flexible to the needs of nontraditional candidates. This goal was consistent between 2015 and 2017.
Colorado allows school districts, private and charter schools, Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) and universities to offer one- to three-year alternate route programs.
Academic Proficiency Requirements: Colorado does not require applicants to demonstrate prior academic performance with a minimum GPA requirement or a nationally normed test of academic ability.
Subject-matter Testing Requirements: Colorado does not require all alternate route applicants to pass a content exam. Elementary education and special education alternate route applicants must pass a subject-matter test, and early childhood alternate route applicants may pass either the elementary or early childhood content exam. Secondary education alternate route applicants or those seeking K-12 endorsements, however, may demonstrate content mastery by either holding a degree in their endorsement area, completing 24 semester hours of coursework, or passing a content-area test in the subject they plan to teach.
Although Colorado requires elementary and elementary special education alternate route applicants to take a subject-matter exam, the state does not require these same applicants to pass a stand-alone, rigorous assessment of early reading prior to entering the classroom as the teacher of record, which in turn does not ensure that these applicants adequately understand the five research-based instructional components of early reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Because elementary and special education teacher preparation in reading are assessed in 2-C: Elementary Reading and 4-B: Special Education Reading, these policies are not considered as part of the assessment for Alternate Route Program Entry.
Coursework Requirements: Colorado does not have major or coursework requirements for its alternate route applicants.
Increase academic requirements for admission.
Colorado should require a rigorous test appropriate for candidates who have already completed a bachelor's degree, such as the GRE, or a GPA of 3.0 or higher to assess academic standing.
Require all applicants to pass a subject-matter test for admission.
While Colorado is commended for requiring elementary candidates to demonstrate content knowledge on a subject-matter test, it is strongly recommended that the state extend this requirement to all of its candidates. Alternate route programs provide nontraditional candidates with an opportunity to use professional knowledge and skills, including subject-matter knowledge, in the classroom. However, because teachers without sufficient subject-matter knowledge place students at risk, the subject-matter test serves as an important guardrail for alternate route candidates.
Colorado recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.
5A: Program Entry
Alternate route teachers need the advantage of a strong academic background. The intent of alternate route programs is to provide a route for those who already have strong subject-matter knowledge to enter the profession, allowing them to focus on gaining the professional skills needed for the classroom. This intent is based on the fact that academic caliber has been shown to correlate with classroom success. Programs that admit candidates with a weak grasp of both subject matter and professional knowledge can put the new teacher in an impossible position, where he or she is much more likely to experience failure and perpetuate high attrition rates.
Academic requirements for admission to alternate routes should set a high bar. Assessing a teacher candidate's college GPA and/or aptitude scores can provide useful and reliable measures of academic caliber, provided that the state does not set the floor too low. States should limit teacher preparation to the top half of the college population. In terms of assessments, relying on basic skills tests designed for those without a college degree is ineffective for alternate route candidates. Appropriate assessments could include the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or candidates' SAT/ACT scores.
In addition to evaluating incoming candidates' academic aptitude, programs should also determine whether applicants have the content knowledge they need prior to acceptance into the program. This determination prior to admission is important given that most alternative certification programs do not require additional content coursework during the course of their program. This determination should be made by using the state's subject matter licensure test.
In some cases, alternative route programs require candidates to have a major in the subject they will be licensed to teach. While ensuring content knowledge through an adequate test is essential, rigid coursework requirements can dissuade talented, qualified individuals from pursuing a career in teaching. By allowing candidates to prove their rich content knowledge by testing out of coursework requirements, professionals who have a wealth of relevant, subject-specific experience can pass their expertise on to students. With such provisions, states can maintain high standards for potential teachers, while utilizing experts of respective fields, such as differential mathematics and biology. For instance, an engineer who wishes to teach physics should face no coursework obstacles as long as he or she can prove sufficient knowledge of physics on an adequate test. A good test with a sufficiently high passing score is certainly as reliable as courses listed on a transcript, if not more so. A testing exemption would also allow alternate routes to recruit college graduates with strong liberal arts backgrounds to work as elementary teachers, even if their transcripts fail to meet state requirements.