Alternate Routes Policy
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.
Washington offers four alternate route programs: Route One, for "currently employed classified instructional employees" who have an associate degree and are seeking "teacher certification with endorsements in special education, bilingual education, or English as a second language"; Route Two, for currently employed staff who have a bachelor's degree and are seeking certification in a shortage area; Route Three, for candidates with a bachelor's degree who are not employed by a school district; and Route Four, for currently employed instructional staff with a bachelor's degree who hold conditional teaching certificates or emergency substitute certificates.
Academic proficiency requirements: Washington does not require alternate route program applicants to demonstrate academic proficiency through a GPA or a test of academic proficiency, such as the SAT, ACT, or GRE. The state requires applicants for all four routes to pass the Washington Educator Skills Test - Basic (West-B) basic skills exam, or submit qualifying scores on the SAT, ACT, California Basic Skills Exam, or the Praxis CORE.
Subject-matter testing requirements: Washington requires that applicants to Routes Two, Three, and Four pass a subject-matter exam at the time of admission, and allows Route One candidates up to 12 months after completion of the program and receipt of a temporary permit to pass a subject-matter exam.
Coursework requirements: Washington does not require alternate route applicants to meet subject-specific coursework requirements in order to apply for these programs.
Washington Administrative Code (WAC) Title 181; Chapter 181-80-020: http://app.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=181-80&full=true State of Washington, Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Residency Certificate http://k12.wa.us/certification/teacher/Residency.aspx
Increase academic requirements for admission.
Washington 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.
While Washington is commended for requiring alternate route candidates in Routes Two, Three, and Four to pass a subject-matter test prior to admission to an alternate route program, this policy should be extended to candidates in Route One. 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.
Eliminate basic skills test requirement.
Washington should continue to accept SAT or ACT scores and eliminate the basic skills test requirement. The state's requirement that alternate route candidates pass a basic skills test is impractical and ineffectual. 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.
Washington was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis, and added that "GPA data for all candidates in alternative routes to certification are aggregated with candidates in traditional programs at the same institution. Programs whose candidates have a mean GPA below 3.0 are flagged for 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.