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Evaluation Studies of the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance

An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification

Contractor: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.

Background/Research Questions:

Title II, Part A, the Improving Teacher State Formula Grants program, is the primary federal funding under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to support a high quality teacher in every classroom. The program, funded at $2.9 billion in FY08, targets high poverty districts and funds a broad array of allowable activities such as support for certification including alternative certification, teacher mentoring and induction, intensive professional development, recruitment, retention, and merit-based teacher and principal pay strategies as well as class size reduction. This evaluation studies alternative certification routes with common features and thus provides an important source of information for this program.

Although most teachers enter the teaching profession through a traditional route to certification (TC route), a growing number of teachers pursue alternative routes to certification (AC route) — the most prominent ones having non-selective program admission requirements. This study is designed to inform the debate about differing routes to certification as well as teacher pre-service training more generally. This study addresses:

  • What are the relative effects on student achievement of teachers who chose to be trained through different routes to certification? How do observed teacher practices vary by chosen route to certification?
  • What aspects of certification programs (e.g., amount of coursework, timing of coursework relative to being the lead teacher in the classroom, core coursework content) are associated with teacher effectiveness?


A pair of new teachers in the same grade was formed at each of 80 schools included in the study, with one teacher pursuing certification through the traditional route and one the alternative route. Students were randomly assigned to teachers in the pair. A comparison of the outcomes within the teacher pairs, informs the first research question. Exploiting the variation in program coursework requirements within the AC routes included in the sample and comparing with their traditional route counterparts provides information about the second research question. Data collection began in 2004 and included student records, pre- and post-test scores, and measures of teacher practice. The study sample included 1 year of data collection for two teacher cohorts (cohort 1 in school year 2004/05, and cohort 2 in school year 2005/06).

Duration: 5 1/2 years (October 1, 2003 – March 31, 2009)

Current Status: An evaluation brief was released in September 2013 (see The report was released in February 2009 (see

Key Findings

The report looked at the practices and effectiveness of students whose teachers entered teaching through traditional compared to less selective alternative routes.

  • There was no difference in student achievement or for five of six measures of instruction experienced between students of AC teachers and those of TC teachers. One instruction impact—classroom culture in literacy—was higher in classrooms headed by traditional compared to alternative route teachers.
  • Negative differences on student math achievement between AC and TC headed classrooms resulted for the subgroup of teachers who reported taking coursework concurrent with teaching.
  • The findings indicate that the variation in content or amount of coursework required for certification in the study sample is not associated with differences in teacher effectiveness.

The evaluation brief synthesized lessons learned from this study and another NCEE study focusing on teachers from highly selective alternative routes to teacher certification:

  • Teachers who enter teaching through alternative routes to certification can help fill teacher shortages in hard-to-staff schools and subjects without reducing student achievement.
  • Coursework taken while teaching appears to decrease teachers' effectiveness.
  • Predicting teacher effectiveness at the time of hiring appears to be difficult.