Program Entry: West Virginia

Alternate Routes Policy

Goal

The state should require alternate routes to limit admission to candidates with strong academic backgrounds, while also being flexible to the needs of nontraditional candidates.This goal has been revised since 2017.

Meets a small part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2020). Program Entry: West Virginia results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/WV-Program-Entry-93

Analysis of West Virginia's policies

West Virginia only offers alternative certification to fill critical need and shortage areas in the state. School districts have their own approved alternative certification programs, and candidates must hold the Alternative Teaching Certificate while completing the alternate program of study. The alternative program teacher certificate is issued initially for one year and can be renewed twice for a total of three years. Upon completion of the alternate program, candidates are eligible for a Provisional (professional) Teaching Certificate, which is non-transferrable and requires additional experience and coursework/training before receiving a Professional Teaching Certificate.

Academic proficiency requirements: To obtain an Alternative Teaching Certificate and participate in an approved alternate program, West Virginia requires a candidate to have at least a bachelor's degree and a minimum overall GPA of 2.5. Candidates may be exempt from required pre-professional skills test by having an MA from an accredited IHE, having composite scores on tests such as the SAT, ACT or GRE, or by passing a basic skills out-of-state test.

Subject-matter testing requirements: West Virginia requires alternate route applicants for general education endorsements to pass a subject-matter exam and basic skills test in order to be eligible for the Alternative Teaching Certificate. Special education candidates must pass the basic skills exam. When candidates are ready to convert an alternate teaching certificate to a  professional license, they may be exempt from content specialization exams if they hold a doctorate or MA in the content area for which licensure is available and requested or have 5 years of directly related work experience in the area.

Coursework requirements: West Virginia requires alternate route applicants for general education endorsements to "hold an academic major... and/or occupational qualifications that reasonably indicate the individual will be competent to pass the subject matter tests and fill the teaching position." There is no test-out option. No subject-matter requirements nor occupational qualifications are required for special education endorsements because the AC programs of study teachers with special education content and pedagogy preparation.

Citation

Recommendations for West Virginia

Eliminate Basic Skills Test.
West Virginia should eliminate the basic skills test requirement for all candidates. 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.

Strengthen academic requirements for admission.
West Virginia should ensure that all alternate routes require candidates to demonstrate solid academic aptitude. Although the minimum GPA requirement that the state maintains is an important first step toward ensuring that candidates have strong academic ability, the current standard does not represent a rigorous requirement.

Extend content knowledge requirements for admission.
While West Virginia is commended for requiring some alternate route candidates to demonstrate content knowledge on a subject-matter test, it is strongly recommended that the state extend this requirement to all of its candidates prior to program admission. Prospective teachers in nontraditional preparation programs should focus their efforts on areas such as pedagogy and classroom management, not on mastering their subject matter. Teachers without sufficient subject-matter knowledge place students at risk, so the licensure test serves as an important guardrail for alternate route candidates.

Exempt content coursework requirements.
West Virginia should waive content knowledge coursework requirements for all candidates who demonstrate sufficient subject-matter knowledge on a rigorous licensure test(s). Exacting coursework requirements, such as a major, in a particular subject area could dissuade talented individuals who lack precisely the right courses but possess the requisite subject-matter expertise from pursing a teaching career.

State response to our analysis

West Virginia was helpful in providing NCTQ with facts that enhanced this analysis. This analysis was updated subsequent to the state's review.

Updated: November 2020

How we graded

5A: Program Entry
 
  • Rigorous Admissions Requirement: With some accommodation for successful performance in a previous professional career, alternate routes should be required to set a rigorous bar by requiring candidates to provide evidence of solid academic aptitude. This should be demonstrated by requiring candidates to have a minimum 3.0 individual or 3.2 cohort average grade point average (GPA) or to have a score in the top half of the entire college-going population on tests of academic ability, such as the SAT, ACT, or GRE.
  • Content Knowledge Requirements:
    • The state should require all aspiring alternate route candidates to pass the subject-matter licensing test to demonstrate the required content knowledge as a prerequisite for admission.
    • The state should waive content-knowledge coursework requirements for alternate route candidates if they can demonstrate mastery by passing the subject-matter licensing test prior to admission.
Rigorous Admissions Requirements
One half of total goal score is earned based on the following:
  • One-half credit: The state will earn the half point if all alternate route candidates are required to have a minimum individual GPA of 3.0 or cohort average GPA of 3.2, or earn a score in the top half of the entire college-going population on a test of academic ability, such as the SAT, ACT, or GRE.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if all alternate route candidates are required to meet any minimum articulated GPA, or if it norms its proficiency tests to the aspiring teacher population rather than the general college-going population.
Content Knowledge Requirements
One half of total goal score is earned based on the following:
  • One-half credit: The state will earn one-half of a point if all candidates are required to pass the subject-matter licensing test as a prerequisite for admission and if they are exempt from content-knowledge coursework requirements.
  • One-quarter credit: The state will earn one-quarter of a point if all candidates are either required to pass the subject-matter licensing test as a prerequisite for admission or if they are exempt from content-knowledge coursework requirements.

Research rationale

Alternate routes for teacher certification represent opportunities for qualified candidates who have strong subject-matter knowledge to enter the profession. Prospective alternate route candidates need the advantage of a strong academic background, allowing them to focus on gaining the professional skills needed for success in the classroom[1]. A teacher's academic caliber correlates with classroom success[2]. Alternate routes that admit candidates with a weak grasp of both subject matter and professional knowledge may put these new teachers in an impossible position, where they are much more likely to experience failure and perpetuate high attrition rates[3].

Academic requirements for admission to alternate routes should set a high bar. Assessing a teacher candidate's college GPA and/or aptitude scores on national exams normed to the entire college-going population can provide useful and reliable measures of academic caliber, provided that the state does not set the floor too low[4]. One study found, "candidates with higher GPAs and those from more selective colleges perform systematically better in the classroom than otherwise identical candidates"[5]. International studies show that differences in teacher cognitive skills are strongly correlated to differences in student performance[6]. More rigorous teacher qualifications improve student achievement, especially among schools serving students from low-income families[7].

In addition to evaluating incoming candidates' academic aptitude, programs should also determine whether applicants have the content knowledge needed to succeed in the classroom after entry through an alternate route[8]. This determination prior to admission, as proven by a passing score on the state's subject-matter licensure test, is important given that many alternative routes do not require candidates to complete additional content coursework during the program. Furthermore, once a candidate is teaching through an alternate route, he or she will need to devote time and effort to hone the professional skills necessary for success in the classroom, such as behavioral management, curriculum delivery, and student assessment. Given the expedited programming for alternate routes, new teachers may feel overwhelmed if they are learning the content they need to teach while simultaneously learning how to teach it.

In some cases, alternative routes 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 teaching career. By allowing candidates to demonstrate 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, including traditionally hard-to-staff subjects such as differential mathematics and biology. For instance, an engineer who wishes to teach physics should face no content coursework obstacles, provided he or she can prove sufficient knowledge of physics on an adequate subject matter test. 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[9].


[1] Walsh, K., & Jacobs, S. (2007). Alternative certification isn't alternative. Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498382.pdf

[2] 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, J. F., Correnti, R., Phelps, G., & Zeng, J. (2009). Exploration of the contribution of teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading. Reading and Writing, 22(4), 457-486.; National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. US Department of Education.; Kukla-Acevedo, S. (2009). Do teacher characteristics matter? New results on the effects of teacher preparation on student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 28(1), 49-57.; Barber, M., & Mourshed, M. (2007). How the world's best-performing schools systems come out on top. McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from http://mckinseyonsociety.com/downloads/reports/Education/Worlds_School_Systems_Final.pdf; Wayne, A. J., & Youngs, P. (2003). Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review. Review of Educational Research, 73(1), 89-122.; Whitehurst, G. J. (2002, March). Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development. White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teacher.; Monk, D. H. (1994). Subject area preparation of secondary mathematics and science teachers and student achievement. Economics of Education Review, 13(2), 125-145.; Murnane, R. J. (1983). Understanding the sources of teaching competence: Choices, skills, and the limits of training. Response to Donna Kerr. Teachers College Record, 84(3), 564-69.; Strauss, R. P., & Sawyer, E. A. (1986). Some new evidence on teacher and student competencies. Economics of Education Review, 5(1), 41-48.; Rockoff, J. E., Jacob, B. A., Kane, T. J., & Staiger, D. O. (2011). Can you recognize an effective teacher when you recruit one? Education Finance and Policy, 6(1), 43-74.

[3] Walsh, K., & Jacobs, S. (2007). Alternative certification isn't alternative. Thomas B. Fordham Institute, National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498382.pdf

[4] For research on the importance of selectivity in teacher preparation programs, see: White, B. R., Presley, J. B., & DeAngelis, K. J. (2008). Leveling up: Narrowing the teacher academic capital gap in Illinois. Illinois Education Research Council. Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1. Retrieved from http://www.siue.edu/ierc/publications/pdf/IERC2008-1.pdf; For evidence on teacher preparation programs' admissions selectivity, see: Auguste, B., Kihn, P., & Miller, M. (2010). Closing the talent gap: Attracting and retaining top-third graduates to careers in teaching. Washington, DC: McKinsey & Company. Retrieved from http://mckinseyonsociety.com/closing-the-talent-gap/; For evidence on international teacher preparation program standards to further contextualize the aforementioned studies, see: Hanushek, E. A., Piopiunik, M., & Wiederhold, S. (2014). The value of smarter teachers: International evidence on teacher cognitive skills and student performance (National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. w20727). Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3386/w20727; Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development. (2005). Recruiting, selecting and employing teachers. In Teachers matter: Attracting, developing and retaining effective teachers (pp. 141-167). Paris, France: OECD Publishing. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264018044-en; Whitehurst, G. J. (2002). Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development. White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers, 39-53. Retrieved from http://www.stcloudstate.edu/tpi/initiative/documents/assessment/ScientificallyBasedReserachonTeacherQuality.pdf

[5] Jacob, B. A. (2016). The power of teacher selection to improve education. Evidence Speaks Reports,1(12). Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/teacher-selection.pdf

[6] Hanushek, E. A., Piopiunik, M., & Wiederhold, S. (2018). The Value of Smarter Teachers: International Evidence on Teacher Cognitive Skills and Student Performance. National Bureau of Economic Research. doi:10.3386/w20727

[7] Boyd, D., Lankford, H., Loeb, S., Rockoff, J., & Wyckoff, J. (2008). The narrowing gap in New York City teacher qualifications and its implications for student achievement in high-poverty schools. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 27(4), 793-818.

[8] For consideration for elementary teachers' need to master content knowledge, see: Goldhaber, D. (2007). Everyone's doing it, but what does teacher testing tell us about teacher effectiveness? Journal of Human Resources, 42(4), 765-794.; See also: Harris, D. N., & Sass, T. R. (2011). Teacher training, teacher quality and student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7), 798-812. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED509656.pdf

[9] Walsh, K., & Jacobs, S. (2007). Alternative certification isn't alternative. Thomas B. Fordham Institute, National Council on Teacher Quality. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED498382.pdf