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.
South Carolina offers six alternate routes to certification: Program of Alternative Certification for Educators (PACE); Greenville Alternative Teacher Education Program (GATE); Teach For America (TFA); American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE); Career and Technology Education (CATE); and Montessori Initial Certification. CATE and Montessori Initial Certifications are aimed at recruiting educators into extremely specialized subjects. As a result, these programs are not analyzed below. The following analysis includes PACE, GATE, TFA, and ABCTE.
Academic Proficiency Requirements: South Carolina's PACE and ABCTE programs do not require applicants to demonstrate academic proficiency through a GPA or exam such as the SAT or GRE. The GATE program requires applicants to have a minimum 2.75 cumulative GPA, and TFA requires that its applicants have a minimum 2.5 GPA. The South Carolina State School Board is considering changes to its Candidate Admissions Requirements for Non-traditional or Alternate Route Programs that may set minimum GPA requirements for all candidates.
Subject-Matter Testing Requirements: South Carolina's PACE and GATE programs require applicants to pass a subject-matter exam in order to gain program entry. TFA and ABCTE programs do not require applicants to pass a subject-matter exam before they are admitted into the program, but TFA and ABCTE candidates must pass the subject-matter exams prior to employment by a South Carolina school district as a full-time teacher.
Although South Carolina requires PACE and GATE applicants to take a subject-matter exam, the state does not require elementary and elementary special education applicants to pass a stand-alone 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 elementary and special education teacher preparation in reading are assessed in 2-C: Elementary Reading and 4-B: Special Education Reading, these policies are not considered as part of the assessment for Alternate Route Program Entry.
Coursework Requirements: South Carolina's PACE and GATE programs require their applicants to have a bachelor's degree that matches their intended teaching area. TFA and ABCTE programs do not require applicants to possess subject-specific coursework in order to gain program entry.
South Carolina Department of Education, Alternative Certification Programs: http://ed.sc.gov/educators/teaching-in-south-carolina/alternative-certification/alternative-certification-programs/ South Carolina Department of Education, Program of Alternative Certification for Educators: http://ed.sc.gov/educators/teaching-in-south-carolina/alternative-certification/alternative-certification-programs/program-of-alternative-certification-for-educators/ State Board of Education, 43-51 (IV), 43-53(I)(C) State Board of Education Proposed Educator Preparation Provider Guidelines: https://ed.sc.gov/educators/educator-preparation/guidelines-external-review-resources/educator-preparation-guidelines-under-review/ Greenville County Schools, Greenville Alternative Teacher Education Program: https://www.greenville.k12.sc.us/Employment/main.asp?titleid=gate S.C. State Board Guidelines for the South Carolina Teach for America Program: http://ed.sc.gov/educators/teaching-in-south-carolina/alternative-certification/alternative-certification-programs/teach-for-america-tfa/ Teach for America: https://www.teachforamerica.org/join-tfa/how-to-apply South Carolina Department of Education, American Board: http://ed.sc.gov/educators/teaching-in-south-carolina/alternative-certification/alternative-certification-programs/american-board/ American Board: https://www.americanboard.org/south-carolina/
Increase academic requirements for admission to all alternate preparation programs.
South Carolina 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.
Require all applicants to pass a subject-matter test for admission.
South Carolina 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.
Offer flexibility in fulfilling coursework requirements for PACE and GATE candidates.
South Carolina should allow any candidate who already has the requisite knowledge and skills to demonstrate such by passing a rigorous test in lieu of needing a major in a particular subject area. Because exacting coursework requirements could dissuade talented individuals who lack precisely the right courses but possess the requisite subject-matter expertise from pursuing a career in teaching, it is important that alternate route candidates have an opportunity to demonstrate subject-matter knowledge through a rigorous test.
Consider Consolidating Alternate Routes
Although South Carolina's numerous options show the state's commitment to alternate certification, the state may want to consider consolidating some of its routes.
South Carolina was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis and provided information regarding the draft guidelines under consideration by the South Carolina State Board of Education. However, this analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review.
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.