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.
Oklahoma authorizes alternate route programs to offer preparation to individuals through its Alternative Placement Program.
Academic Proficiency Requirements: Oklahoma changed its admissions requirements for Alternative Placement Program applicants to now allow a minimum 2.5 GPA, a bachelor's degree plus two years of work-qualified experience, which is work experience that is considered relevant to the candidate's intended teaching area, or a terminal degree (i.e., the highest degree available in a field). Previously, the state required Alternative Placement Program applicants to have a minimum 2.5 GPA, without any exceptions. All candidates must take the Oklahoma General Education Test (OGET) after being accepted to the program.
Subject-Matter Testing Requirements: Oklahoma no longer requires Alternative Placement Program applicants to pass a subject-matter exam as a prerequisite. They are now expected to pass these exams after they are accepted into the Alternative Placement Program.
Coursework Requirements: Oklahoma requires Alternative Placement Program applicants to demonstrate competency in their intended teaching area by having one of the following: a major or at least 30 relevant credit hours in their intended teaching area; a minor or at least 15 credit hours in their intended teaching area plus one year of qualified work or relevant volunteer experience; at least three years or qualified work or relevant volunteer work experience, plus a written recommendation from either an employer or volunteer coordinator; a publication in a peer-reviewed academic or trade journal; or other evidence of demonstrating competency, subject to state approval. This last option could refer to a test-out option for coursework requirements if an applicant passes the relevant subject-matter exam, although that is not explicitly written in the state's updated Alternative Placement Program eligibility requirements.
Increase academic requirements for admission.
Oklahoma 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 2.5 does not represent a rigorous requirement.
Require applicants to pass a subject-matter test for admission.
Oklahoma 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.
Eliminate basic skills test requirement.
Oklahoma should eliminate the basic skills test requirement. 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.
Oklahoma 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.