Alternate Route Eligibility: Pennsylvania

2011 Expanding the Pool of Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should require alternate route programs to exceed the admission requirements of traditional preparation programs while also being flexible to the needs of nontraditional candidates.

Nearly meets
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Alternate Route Eligibility: Pennsylvania results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/PA-Alternate-Route-Eligibility-7

Analysis of Pennsylvania's policies

The admissions requirements for Pennsylvania's alternate routes exceed those of traditional programs but lack flexibility for nontraditional candidates.

Pennsylvania classifies Pennsylvania Teacher Intern Certification and the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) as its alternate routes to certification.

Candidates for Pennsylvania Teacher Intern Certification must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. The state allows those who have passed the required content test to be accepted with a 2.8 GPA. Since the test is required for admission, it appears that 2.8 is in fact the program standard.

Candidates must have a bachelor's degree in the subject area they plan to teach, as well as six credits of college level mathematics and six credits of college-level English literature and Composition.

Teacher Intern Certification candidates must also pass a subject-matter test. This test cannot be used to test out of the coursework requirements.

Citation

Recommendations for Pennsylvania

Consider accommodations for meeting minimum GPA requirements.
While the state is commended for requiring applicants to provide evidence of past academic performance, Pennsylvania should consider whether some accommodation in this standard might be appropriate for career changers with relevant work experience. Alternatively, the state could require one of the standardized tests of academic proficiency commonly used in higher education for graduate admissions, such as the GRE.

Offer flexibility in fulfilling coursework requirements.
Pennsylvania should allow any candidate who already has the requisite knowledge and skills to demonstrate such by passing a rigorous test. Rigid coursework requirements could dissuade talented individuals who lack precisely the right courses from pursuing a career in teaching.

State response to our analysis

Pennsylvania contended that it has a GPA policy that aligns the GPA with test scores so that those who do exceptionally well on the test may be accepted with a lower GPA and, conversely, the candidate with a high GPA can receive accommodation on the required test score. Further, the state allows those who do not meet the required GPA in their undergraduate program to demonstrate a 3.0 in 12 credits at the graduate level for admittance into a program. The six credits of English and Mathematics are not required for post-baccalaureate candidates.

The state also asserted that under new legislation it mandates the programs offered by IHEs and non-IHEs to be flexible and include accelerated programs. The law creates residency certificates for shortage areas either statewide or in geographic areas. Candidates for both the residency and intern certificates must pass their content test and then are able to teach while completing a program that focuses on pedagogy and child development. New guidelines are being developed to stress that candidates are to be given credit for previous experience and education and opening all postbacc programs to non-IHE providers.

Last word

A sliding scale that allows candidates flexibility in meeting the GPA requirements for admission based on other measures of academic standing is sound policy.  Unfortunately, it does not appear that Pennsylvania offers such flexibility in its admissions criteria.  According to an FAQ on the state's website:  "The Praxis Qualifying Score policy does not impact program admission GPA...and is applied only for purposes of recommendation for certification."

How we graded

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 be a strong predictor of 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 exceed the requirements for traditional programs.

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. A 2.5 minimum GPA is the common choice of many alternate route programs but may be too low. It is about the same as what most teacher preparation programs require of traditional candidates. Some programs address this problem by looking for at least a 2.75 in the last 60 hours of college, as indicative of a candidate's growing seriousness of purpose. GPA measures are especially useful for assessing elementary teacher qualifications, since elementary teaching demands a broader body of knowledge that can be harder to define in terms of specific tests or coursework.

Multiple ways for assessing subject-matter competency are needed to accommodate nontraditional candidates.


Rigid coursework requirements can dissuade talented, qualified individuals who lack precisely the "right" courses from pursuing a career in teaching. States can maintain high standards by using appropriate tests to allow individuals to prove their subject-matter knowledge. 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 a 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.

Research rationale

For evidence of the lack of selectivity among alternate route programs, see Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative (NCTQ, 2007).

There is no shortage of research indicating the states and districts should pay more attention to the academic ability of a teacher applicant. On the importance of academic ability generally, see Carlisle, Correnti, Phelps and Zeng. "Exploration of the Contribution of Teachers' Knowledge About Reading to their Students' Improvement in Reading." Reading Writing. (2009), US Department of Education Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008), S. Kukla-Acevedo, "Do Teacher Characteristics Matter? New Results on the Effects of Teacher Preparation on Student Achievement." Economics of Education Review (2009): 49-57. M. Barber and M. Mourshed, How the World's Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top. McKinsey & Company (DATE). A.J. Wayne and P. Youngs, "Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review," Review of Educational Research 3, No. 1 (2003): 89-122. See also G.J. Whitehurst, "Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development," presented at the 2002 White House Conference on Preparing Teachers; R. Ehrenberg and D. Brewer, "Did Teachers' Verbal Ability and Race Matter in the 1950s' Coleman Revisited," Economics of Education Review 14 (1995), 1-21; R. Ferguson, "Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters," Harvard Journal on Legislation 28 (1991), 465-498; R. Ferguson and H. Ladd, "How and Why Money Matters: An Analysis of Alabama Schools," in Holding Schools Accountable, ed. H. Ladd (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1996), pp. 265-298; R. Greenwald, L. Hedges, and R. Laine, "Does Money Matter? A Meta-Analysis of Studies of the Effects of Differential School Inputs on Students' Outcomes, Educational Researcher 23, no. 3 (1994), 5-14; E. Hanushek, "Teacher Characteristics and Gains in Student Achievement: Estimation Using Micro-Data," American Economic Review 61, no. 2 (1971), 280-288; E. Hanushek, Education and Race: An Analysis of the Educational Production Process (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1972); E. Hanushek, "A More Complete Picture of School Resource Policies," Review of Educational Research 66 (1996), 397-409; H. Levin, Concepts of Economic Efficiency and Educational Production," in Education as an Industry, ed. J. Froomkin, D. Jamison, and R. Radner (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1976); D. Monk and J.R. King, "Subject Area Preparation of Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers and Student Achievement," Economics of Education Review 12, no. 2 (1994), 125-145; R. Murnane, "Understanding the Sources of Teaching Competence: Choices, Skills, and the Limits of Training," Teachers College Record 84, no. 3 (1983) R. Murnane and B. Phillips, Effective Teachers of Inner City Children: Who They Are and What Are They? (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1978); R. Murnane and B. Phillips, "What Do Effective Teachers of Inner City Children Have in Common?" Social Science Research 10 (1981), 83-100; M. McLaughlin and D. Marsh, "Staff Development and School Change," Teachers College Record 80, no. 1 (1978), 69-94; R. Strauss and E. Sawyer, "Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies, Economics of Education Review 5 (1986), 41; A. A. Summers and B.L. Wolfe, "Which School Resources Help Learning? Efficiency and Equity in Philadelphia Public Schools," Business Review (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, February 1975).

This research is supported by other research showing that teachers from more selective colleges are more effective at raising student achievement. See for example, White, Presley, and DeAngelis, Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois. Illinois Education Research Council (2008). A. Summers and B. Wolfe, "Do Schools Make a Difference?" American Economic Review 67, no. 4 (1977), 639-652. 

Evidence of the impact of college selectivity and academic ability on student achievement is also found in studies of alternative programs such as Teach for America and Teaching Fellows.  For example, P. Decker, D. Mayer, and S. Glazerman, "The Effects of Teach for America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation." Mathematica (2009).  Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb and Wyckoff, "How Changes in Entry Requirements Alter the Teacher Workforce and Affect Student Achievement." American Education Finance Association (2006).  J. Constantine et al. "An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification" Mathematica Policy Research (2009).

More evidence is provided by research done on National Board certified teachers. In fact, one study finds that the only measure that distinguishes them from their non-certified peers was their higher scores on the SAT and ACT. See D. Goldhaber, D. Perry, and E. Anthony, NBPTS certification: Who applies and what factors are associated with success? Urban Institute (2003); available at: http://www.urban.org/UploadedPDF/410656_NBPTSCertification.pdf.