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.
Louisiana offers three alternate routes to certification: Practitioner Teacher Alternate Certification Program, Master's Degree Alternate Certification Program, and Certification-Only Alternate Certification Program.
Academic Proficiency Requirements: Louisiana requires applicants in the Practitioner Teacher Program and the Certification-Only Program to have a minimum 2.5 GPA if applying to a private provider, or a 2.2 minimum GPA if applying to a college or university program. For Certification-Only program applicants, the GPA may be calculated from the last 60 hours of coursework. Master's Degree program applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA.
Applicants to all three of Louisiana's alternate routes must also pass the Praxis Core basic skills test. Applicants who already have a graduate degree are exempt from the basic skills test requirement. For the Certification-Only program, Louisiana accepts equivalent scores on the SAT or ACT in lieu of the basic skills requirement.
Subject-matter Testing Requirements: Louisiana requires applicants to all three of Louisiana's alternate routes to pass a subject-matter test. Where there is no subject-matter exam, applicants must take a minimum of 31 semester hours of coursework in that content area before applying to the program.
Although Louisiana requires alternate route applicants to take a subject-matter exam, the state does not require elementary and elementary special education applicants to pass a stand-alone 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: Louisiana does not require subject-specific coursework to be completed in order to apply to any of the state's alternate routes, except in cases where a subject-matter test does not exist.
Increase academic requirements for admission.
Louisiana 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. Although the minimum GPA requirement that the state maintains is an important first step toward ensuring that candidates have strong academic ability, the current standard of 2.2 or 2.5 does not represent a rigorous requirement.
Eliminate basic skills test requirement.
Louisiana should continue to accept SAT or ACT scores for the Certification-Only Program and eliminate the basic skills test requirement for all alternate route applicants. The state's requirement that alternate route candidates pass a basic skills test is impractical and ineffectual. Basic skills tests measure minimum competency—essentially skills that a person should have acquired in middle school—and are inappropriate for candidates who have already earned a bachelor's degree.
Louisiana 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.