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.
Utah offers two alternate pathways to teaching: the Alternative Routes to Licensure (ARL), which the state has had in place for some time, and the Level 1 Academic Pathway to Teaching (APT) license, which the state established in 2016.
Academic Proficiency Requirements: Utah does not require ARL or Level 1 APT applicants to demonstrate prior academic performance through a minimum GPA or test for academic proficiency such as the SAT or GRE.
Subject-matter Testing Requirements: Utah does not require ARL applicants to take a subject-matter test in order to gain program entry. APT applicants, however, are required to pass a subject-matter exam in order to be eligible for a Level 1 APT license.
Although Utah requires Level 1 APT applicants to take a subject-matter exam, the state does not require elementary and elementary special education applicants to pass a stand-alone, rigorous 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: Utah's ARL applicants who are seeking an elementary license must have at least 27 semester hours of applicable content courses, with a broad background of liberal arts content in the areas of language arts, science, social studies, mathematics, fine arts, physical education, and health. ARL applicants seeking a secondary license must have a major in an area related to their intended teaching area. The state does not provide applicants a test-out option for these coursework requirements.
Level 1 APT applicants are not required to have earned any subject-specific coursework in order to be considered eligible of this license.
Utah Administrative Code, R277-503-3, -503-4, -503-5, -511 Utah State Board of Education, Earning a Utah Educator License: https://www.schools.utah.gov/curr/licensing/earning
Increase academic requirements for admission.
Utah 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.
Utah is commended for requiring APT applicants to pass a subject-matter test prior to admission, but the state should extend this requirement to ARL applicants. 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.
Utah should allow ARL candidates who already have 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.
Utah recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis and noted that a special education license is not available through the APT rule.
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.