2017 Alternate Routes Policy
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.
Massachusetts has now combined its traditional and alternate routes into three distinct routes: Route One, with all the same preparation program approval guidelines for both traditional and alternate programs; Route Two, which is now the Performance Review Program for Initial Licensure (PRPIL); and Route Three, which enables out-of-state teachers to gain licensure in Massachusetts. Since Route Two is a performance review designed to allow noncertified teachers to attain licensure, and Route Three is further discussed in Goal 6-A: Requirements for Out-of-State Teachers, this analysis is limited to a discussion of Route One.
Academic Proficiency Requirements: Massachusetts reviews all programs— traditional and alternate- based — on the general requirement that the programs ensure that "admission criteria and processes are rigorous such that those admitted demonstrate success in the program and during employment in the licensure role." The state does not set academic proficiency requirements, such as a minimum GPA or scores on a test like the SAT or GRE, for alternate route applicants.
Subject-Matter Testing Requirements: Massachusetts requires all licensure applicants to pass a subject-matter exam and a Communication and Literacy Skills test as conditions of program completion and to receive a license, but not at the point of entry into the preparation program.
Coursework Requirements: Massachusetts does not require alternate route applicants to have completed subject-specific coursework before applying to alternate route programs.
603 CMR 7.04, 7.05 Massachusetts Department of Education, Guidelines for Program Approval: http://www.doe.mass.edu/edprep/ProgramApproval.pdf
Increase academic requirements for admission.
Massachusetts 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 applicants to pass a subject-matter test for admission.
Massachusetts should require all alternate route candidates to pass a subject-matter test prior to admission to an alternate route program. 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.
Massachusetts was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced 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.