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.
Mississippi offers four alternate routes to certification: Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT), Mississippi Alternate Path to Quality Teachers (MAPQT), Teach Mississippi Institute (TMI), and American Board Certification for Teacher Excellence (ABCTE).
Academic Proficiency Requirements: Mississippi requires applicants to all of its alternate routes to have a minimum 2.75 GPA on content coursework in the their intended teaching area or a passing score on the appropriate subject-matter exam as long as the alternate route program can ensure that the accepted cohort of candidates' collective GPA meets or exceeds a 3.0 on pre-major coursework. In addition, all applicants must pass either the Praxis Core basic skills exam or achieve passing scores on the ACT.
Subject-Matter Testing Requirements: Mississippi requires applicants to its alternate routes to pass a subject-matter test as part of the admissions process. Applicants to the ABCTE program must also pass a pedagogy assessment.
Although Mississippi requires alternate route applicants to take a subject-matter exam, the state does not require elementary special education 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 special education teacher preparation in reading are assessed in 4-B: Special Education Reading, this policy is not considered as part of the assessment for Alternate Route Program Entry.
Coursework Requirements: Mississippi does not make subject-specific coursework requirements of applicants to the state's alternate route programs.
Mississippi Department of Education, Alternate Route Programs: http://www.mde.k12.ms.us/OEL/ARP
Increase academic requirements for admission.
Mississippi 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 2.75 does not represent a rigorous requirement.
Eliminate basic skills test requirement.
Mississippi should continue to accept ACT scores and eliminate the basic skills test requirement. The state's requirement that alternate route candidates pass a basic skills test is impractical and ineffectual, although Mississippi is recognized for allowing candidates to use equivalent scores to fulfill this admission criterion. 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.
Mississippi 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.