Alternate Route Eligibility: South Carolina

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.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Alternate Route Eligibility: South Carolina results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/SC-Alternate-Route-Eligibility-7

Analysis of South Carolina's policies

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).

Citation

Recommendations for South Carolina

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.

State response to our analysis

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.

Last word

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.

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.