Alternate Route Eligibility: Utah

2015 Expanding the Pool of Teachers 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.

Does not meet

Analysis of Utah's policies

Utah classifies the Alternative Route to Licensure (ARL) as its alternate route to certification.

Utah does not require candidates to demonstrate prior academic performance, such as a minimum GPA. The state requires secondary candidates to have a major or equivalent coursework in their targeted subject area. Those who wish to teach at the elementary level are required to have a minimum of 27 semester hours with a broad background of liberal arts content in the areas of language arts, science, social studies, mathematics, fine arts, physical education and health. A subject-matter test is not required for the ARL route, nor can a subject-matter test be used to test out of the coursework requirements.

Utah offers the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) as a pathway to complete the Alternative Routes to Licensure Program, although it is not in and of itself a route to certification. Therefore, applicants in the ABCTE pathway are required to meet ARL admission requirements prior to applying to ABCTE. However, candidates in ABCTE do take subject-matter tests but not for admission to ARL. Passing scores on ABCTE content tests cannot be used in lieu of ARL content coursework requirements.


Recommendations for Utah

Screen candidates for academic ability.
Utah should require that candidates to its alternate routes provide some evidence of good academic performance. 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, would be appropriate to assess academic standing. 

Require applicants to pass a subject-matter test for admission.

The concept behind alternate routes is that the nontraditional candidate is able to concentrate on acquiring professional knowledge and skills because he or she has strong subject-area knowledge. Teachers without sufficient subject-matter knowledge place students at risk.

Offer flexibility in fulfilling coursework requirements.

While Utah is commended for its intent to provide a licensing route through competency-based tests in the ABCTE program, the policy that minimum coursework or a major is still required makes this test-out option ineffectual. Utah should allow any candidate who already has the requisite knowledge and skills to demonstrate such by passing a rigorous test. Exacting coursework requirements could dissuade talented individuals who lack precisely the right courses from pursuing a career in teaching.

State response to our analysis

Utah recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis.

How we graded

Research rationale

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 be a strong predictor of 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 bound (or in the case of alternate routes college graduate) population. GPA measures may be especially useful for assessing elementary teacher qualifications, since elementary teaching demands a broader body of knowledge that can be harder to define in terms of specific tests or coursework.  In terms of assessments, relying on basic skills tests designed for those without a college degree is ineffective for alternate route candidates. The most appropriate assessment for post-baccalaureate candidates may be the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).

Multiple ways for assessing subject-matter competency are needed to accommodate nontraditional candidates.
Rigid coursework requirements can dissuade talented, qualified individuals who lack precisely the "right" courses from pursuing a career in teaching. States can maintain high standards by using appropriate tests to allow individuals to prove their subject-matter knowledge. 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 a 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.

Alternate Route Eligibility: Supporting Research
For evidence of the lack of selectivity among alternate route programs, see Alternative Certification Isn't Alternative (NCTQ, 2007).

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 J. Carlisle, R. Correnti, G. Phelps, and J. Zeng. "Exploration of the Contribution of Teachers' Knowledge About Reading to their Students' Improvement in Reading." Reading Writing, Volume 22, No. 4, April 2009, pp. 457-486; U.S. Department of Education, Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel2008; S. Kukla-Acevedo, "Do Teacher Characteristics Matter? New Results on the Effects of Teacher Preparation on Student Achievement." Economics of Education Review, Volume 28, No. 1, February 2009: pp. 49-57; M. Barber and M. Mourshed, How the World's Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top. New York: McKinsey & Company, September 2007; A.J. Wayne and P. Youngs, "Teacher characteristics and student achievement gains: A review," Review of Educational Research, Volume 73, No. 1, Spring 2003, pp. 89-122. See also G.J. Whitehurst, "Scientifically based research on teacher quality: Research on teacher preparation and professional development," presented at the 2002 White House Conference on Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers; R. Ehrenberg and D. Brewer, "Did Teachers' Verbal Ability and Race Matter in the 1960s'? Coleman Revisited," Economics of Education Review, Volume 14, No. 1, March 1995, pp. 1-21; R. Ferguson, "Paying for Public Education: New Evidence on How and Why Money Matters," Harvard Journal on LegislationVolume 28, Summer 1991, pp. 465-498; R. Ferguson and H. Ladd, "How and Why Money Matters: An Analysis of Alabama Schools," in Holding Schools Accountable: Performance-Based Reform in Education, ed. H. Ladd (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution,1996, pp. 265-298; L. Hedges, R. Laine, and R. Greenwald, "An Exchange: Part I: Does Money Matter? A Meta-Analysis of Studies of the Effects of Differential School Inputs on Student Outcomes", Educational Researcher,Volume 23, No. 3, April 1994, pp. 5-14; E. Hanushek, "Teacher Characteristics and Gains in Student Achievement: Estimation Using Micro Data," American Economic Review,Volume 61, No. 2, May 1971, pp. 280-288; E. Hanushek, Education and Race: An Analysis of the Educational Production Process (Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath, 1972), 176 p.; E. Hanushek, "A More Complete Picture of School Resource Policies," Review of Educational Research, Volume 66, No. 3, Fall 1996, pp. 397-409; H. Levin, "Concepts of Economic Efficiency and Educational Production," in Education as an Industry, eds. J. Froomkin, D. Jamison, and R. Radner (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger, 1976), pp. 149-198; D. Monk, "Subject Area Preparation of Secondary Mathematics and Science Teachers and Student Achievement," Economics of Education Review, Volume 13, No. 2, June 1994, pp. 125-145; R. Murnane, "Understanding the Sources of Teaching Competence: Choices, Skills, and the Limits of Training," Teachers College Record,Volume 84, No. 3, 1983, pp. 564-569; R. Murnane and B. Phillips, Effective Teachers of Inner City Children: Who They Are and What Are They? (Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, 1978); R. Murnane and B. Phillips, "What Do Effective Teachers of Inner-City Children Have in Common?" Social Science Research, Volume 10, No. 1, March 1981, pp. 83-100; M. McLaughlin and D. Marsh, "Staff Development and School Change," Teachers College Record, Volume 80, No. 1,1978, pp. 69-94; R. Strauss and E. Sawyer, "Some New Evidence on Teacher and Student Competencies,"Economics of Education Review, Volume 5, No.1, 1986, pp. 41-48; A. A. Summers and B.L. Wolfe, "Which School Resources Help Learning? Efficiency and Equity in Philadelphia Public Schools," Business Review (Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, February 1975).

This research is supported by other research showing that teachers from more selective colleges are more effective at raising student achievement. See for example, B. White, J. Presley, and K. DeAngelis, 2008, "Leveling Up: Narrowing the Teacher Academic Capital Gap in Illinois", Illinois Education Research Council, Policy Research Report: IERC 2008-1, 44 p.; A. Summers and B. Wolfe, "Do Schools Make a Difference?", American Economic Review, Volume 67, No. 4, September 1977, pp. 639-652.

Evidence of the impact of college selectivity and academic ability on student achievement is also found in studies of alternative programs such as Teach for America and Teaching Fellows.  For example, P. Decker, D. Mayer, and S. Glazerman, "The Effects of Teach for America on Students: Findings from a National Evaluation." Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.,2004.  D. Boyd, P. Grossman, H. Lankford, S. Loeb,  and J. Wyckoff, "How Changes in Entry Requirements Alter the Teacher Workforce and Affect Student Achievement." NBER Working Paper No. 11844, December 2005; J. Constantine, D. Player, T. Silva, K. Hallgren, M. Grider, J. Deke, and E. Warner, "An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification: Final Report", February 2009, U.S. Department of Education, NCEE 2009-4043.

More evidence is provided by research done on National Board certified teachers. In fact, one study finds that the only measure that distinguishes them from their non-certified peers was their higher scores on the SAT and ACT. See D. Goldhaber, D. Perry, and E. Anthony, NBPTS certification: Who applies and what factors are associated with success? Urban Institute, May 2003; available at: