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.
While the admission requirements for South Carolina's alternate routes do not necessarily exceed those for traditional preparation programs, the state does require evidence of subject-matter knowledge.
South Carolina offers an alternate route to certification through its Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE). South Carolina does not require candidates to demonstrate prior academic performance, such as a minimum GPA, as an entrance standard for the alternate route program. Candidates of the PACE program must have a bachelor's degree or higher with a major in, or closely related to, the subject they plan to teach.
PACE applicants must also pass a subject-matter test. The subject-matter test cannot be used to test out of the coursework requirements.
The state requires candidates to have two years' prior full-time work experience, which must include at least one year of continuous full-time work. This requirement is waived for candidates with a master's degree.
South Carolina also offers an alternate route through the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE).
Screen candidates for academic ability.
South Carolina should require that candidates to its alternate routes provide some evidence of good academic performance. The standard should be higher than what is required of traditional teacher candidates, such as a GPA of 2.75 or higher. 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.
While South Carolina is recognized for requiring all applicants to pass a subject-matter test, the state 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.
Consider flexibility in work-experience requirement.
The state should consider using a candidate's years of experience as a factor in the admission process rather than as a requirement. Requiring a minimum number of years' work experience may disqualify potentially talented candidates unnecessarily. Recent graduates, who may demonstrate high academic ability and strong content knowledge but lack the minimum years of experience, would be needlessly excluded from the alternate route programs under this requirement.
South Carolina asserted that there is no evidence that GPA has any impact on teacher effectiveness or student performance. South Carolina stands behind the admission criteria for the Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE). Through the combination of a major in the subject area and a passing score on the required Praxis subject-area examination, South Carolina is confident that the alternative route candidates have demonstrated a "strong subject-area expertise." The major in the subject area assures an academic knowledge of the content area, while the testing assures a current understanding of the subject area regardless of the initial GPA. In addition, South Carolina stated that the subject-area major requirement can be demonstrated through an actual posted degree, through 30 hours in the subject area with 21 hours at the junior/senior level, or with the evaluation of a higher education department chair in the content area the candidate intends to teach. These three methods offer flexibility in meeting the subject-area admission criteria without sacrificing quality. Further, the degree with a major requirement and test-score requirement exceed the admission requirements of most traditional preparation programs. Further, the state noted that the work-experience requirement allows PACE to seek out true career changers. Research of PACE candidates shows that individuals who meet the work-experience requirement are committed to entering the teaching profession, and they are not simply stopping by the profession on their way to another career. Since the state and employing school district cover a majority of the training costs, South Carolina is seeking mature and committed individuals to enter the teaching profession and its classrooms.Finally, South Carolina noted that other alternative routes, ABCTE and TFA, do not have a work-experience requirement. The state asserted that having a menu of alternative programs focused on various potential education candidate pools is a sound approach.
Alternate routes represent a streamlined pathway into the teaching profession for certain candidates; a streamlined pathway is not appropriate for every prospective teacher. Alternate routes are for those candidates with strong subject-area knowledge and an above-average academic background. GPA is just one way to evaluate the academic caliber of applicants, but some measure is necessary.
As to South Carolina's point about flexibility in demonstrating subject-area knowledge, all of the state's options could result in an applicant with deep knowledge, such as an experienced chemical engineer with an engineering degree who wants to teach chemistry, having to take more coursework. The state's concern about sacrificing quality by offering a test-out option is largely attributable to states' setting the scores too low on these tests, or not demanding more rigorous tests from testing companies. There is no reason why the state cannot put in place a test that is sufficiently demanding and thoroughly assesses candidates' knowledge of a subject. In return, the state would increase significantly its pool of candidates to consider, thereby raising the overall quality of its teachers.
Finally, the state's point about its work-experience requirement is well taken. NCTQ encourages the state to ensure that talented, recent liberal-arts graduates are not unduly shut out of the program.