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.
Vermont offers the Peer Review program, an alternate route program run through the state's department of education. The state also authorizes other providers to offer additional alternate route programs based on a set of state requirements.
Academic Proficiency Requirements: Vermont does not require all applicants of its alternate routes to demonstrate academic proficiency at the time of application through either a GPA or a test of academic proficiency, such as the SAT or GRE. Effective September 1, 2017, however, Peer Review applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA in a major field of study and pass the Praxis Core basic skills exam or submit acceptable scores on the SAT, ACT, or GRE.
Subject-matter Testing Requirements: Vermont does not require all alternate route applicants to pass a subject-matter test in order to gain program entry, although all alternate route candidates must take a subject-matter exam before they apply for a license. Peer Review applicants must pass a subject-matter exam if applicable to the endorsement sought as a prerequisite to acceptance into the program.
Although Vermont requires Peer Review 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: Vermont requires all alternate route applicants to have successfully completed a major or its equivalent in the liberal arts and sciences or in the content area of a candidate's intended teaching area. Applicants who are seeking licensure in an area that requires an advanced degree must hold the specified advanced degree in order to be considered eligible for alternate route preparation. Vermont does not offer a test-out option for these coursework requirements.
Increase academic requirements for admission for all alternate route candidates.
While Vermont is commended for raising the academic requirements for application to the Peer Review program, the state should require a rigorous test appropriate for all alternate route 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.
Vermont 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.
Vermont 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.
Eliminate basic skills test requirement for the Peer Review program.
Vermont should continue to accept SAT, ACT, or GRE scores and eliminate the basic skills test requirement for the Peer Review program. The state's requirement that alternate route candidates pass a basic skills test is impractical and ineffectual, although Vermont is recognized for allowing candidates to use equivalent scores to fulfill this admission criterion. Basic skills tests measure minimum competency—essentially skills that a person should have acquired in middle school—and are inappropriate for candidates who have already earned a bachelor's degree.
Vermont was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis.
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.