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Fla. Teacher Training Routes Vary in Effectiveness, Study Shows

A variety of Florida alternative-certification programs attracted a more qualified-on-paper group of teacher candidates compared to traditionally certified teachers, but varied in how effective their graduates were in the classroom, concludes a study recently released by the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research.

The study underscores the diversity in the alternative preparation world in the Sunshine State.

Georgia State University researcher Tim R.Sass used a "value added" technique to examine the growth in test scores by students taught by teachers from three certification routes in Florida: The "Educator Preparation Institute" certification option, run mainly by community colleges; district-run alternative certification; and certfiication by the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, a national, online alternative-route program.

Then, he compared the results with those of graduates form traditional certification programs. As you probably know, value-added uses student's past performance to predict how well he or she will do in the future, and then compares the difference, holding constant factors that could bias scores.

Because this isn't a randomized experiment, it's still possible that the studies are capturing something other than teacher effectiveness, so keep that in mind.

Here's a rundown of the findings:

Alternative routes attracted a different population of teachers.

Teachers in the alternative-route programs tended to have stronger credentials than those of Florida's teacher colleges; they graduated on average from more competitive colleges, tended to pass the licensing tests on the first time, and had higher SAT scores.

In addition, teachers recruited through the alternative routes had about two additional college science courses compared to traditionally prepared teachers. This was not the case in mathematics, however.

The quality of the alternative routes varied.

The paper found that the EPI completers tended to do worse than traditionally prepared teachers, or about 3 to 4 percent of a standard deviation lower. By contrast, the ABCTE teachers boosted math achievement on average by 6 to 11 percent of a standard deviation more than traditionally prepared teachers. They were only slightly better in reading, however.

This finding about ABCTE is especially interesting. It directly contradicts another study from a few years back, which found that ABCTE teachers tended to do far worse than other teachers in mathematics.

Both studies relied on small sample sizes of ABCTE teachers, so the paper urges caution in drawing conclusions on this point. It's still as good a reminder as any why it's important to look across several studies before drawing conclusions about any one program's effectiveness.

The district-prepared teachers didn't tend to do much better or worse than those who were traditionally certified.

The larger point in the CALDER paper—that alternative routes vary widely in quality—backs up a lot of existing research that the differences between traditional and alternative routes to teaching are smaller, on average, than the differences among them.

The amount of coursework in the route was not related to effectiveness.

The ABCTE route requires no formal coursework for candidates, but those teachers were the highest performing in mathematics.

Coursework has long been a hot topic in the teacher education field. A 2009 study from Mathematica Policy Research also found no relationship between teachers from "high" and "low" coursework in alternative routes and their impact on student achievement, but those findings were contested by another scholar.

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