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An Evaluation of Teachers Trained Through Different Routes to Certification
NCEE 2009-4043
February 2009

Research Questions and Study Design

This study addresses two questions related to teacher preparation and certification routes:

  1. 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?
  2. What aspects of certification programs (such as the amount of coursework, the timing of coursework relative to being the lead teacher in the classroom, the core coursework content) are associated with teacher effectiveness?2
The answer to the first question is most relevant to principals faced with a choice between hiring an AC or a TC teacher. The answer to the second is of interest to policymakers and designers and administrators of teacher training programs in their efforts to identify the training characteristics and certification requirements that are related most positively to student achievement.

A brief description of the study design is presented below, followed by a summary of the main study findings. More details on the selection of teacher preparation programs models, study sample, random assignment and analytical strategy, and data collection follow.

Study Design

Participants: Schools that had recently hired alternatively certified (AC) teachers were recruited to participate in the study. If the AC teacher was teaching the same grade level as a relative novice traditionally certified (TC) teacher, the school was eligible to participate in the evaluation. The evaluation included 2,600 students in 63 schools in 20 districts.

Research Design: In the study schools, every grade that contained at least one eligible AC and one eligible TC teacher was included. Students in these study grades were randomly assigned to be in the class of an AC or a TC teacher. The random assignment ensured that, within each teacher pair, the students in each classroom were similar on average. The pairing of an AC teacher to a TC teacher in each school and grade level constituted a separate miniexperiment. Students were tested at the beginning of the school year as a baseline measure and at the end of the year as an outcome. Classroom instruction was observed at one point during the year as an outcome.

Analysis: In each school grade, the outcomes of students who were randomly assigned to an AC classroom were compared to the outcomes of students who were assigned to a TC classroom, generating an impact estimate for each teacher pair, referred to as a miniexperiment. The overall impact was calculated by taking the average of the impacts from all mini-experiments. The mini-experiments were also divided into two approximately equalsized subgroups based on the amount of coursework that was required (low or high) by the AC teacher's program, and the impacts were averaged separately for each group. Lowcoursework AC teachers were defined as teachers whose program required 274 or fewer hours of coursework, while high-coursework AC teachers were defined as teachers whose program required 308 hours or more of coursework.

The main findings of the study are:

  • Both the AC and the TC programs with teachers in the study were diverse in the total instruction they required for their candidates. The total hours required by AC programs ranged from 75 to 795, and by TC programs, from 240 to 1,380. Thus not all AC programs require fewer hours of coursework than all TC programs. The degree of overlap in coursework requirements between AC and TC programs in the study was dictated by variations in state policies on teacher certification programs. For example, in New Jersey all AC teachers were required to complete fewer hours of coursework than all TC teachers, while in California, the range of coursework hours required was similar for AC and TC teachers.
  • While teachers trained in TC programs receive all their instruction (and participate in student teaching) prior to becoming regular full-time teachers, AC teachers do not necessarily begin teaching without having received any formal instruction. Overall, low-coursework AC teachers in the study were required to take an average of 115 hours of instruction—64 percent of the total amount of instruction they would receive—before starting to teach, and high-coursework AC teachers in the study were required to take an average of 150 hours—about 35 percent of the total amount they would receive— before starting to teach. Nine AC teachers in the study, seven of them from New Jersey, were not required to complete any coursework before becoming regular full-time teachers.
  • There were no statistically significant differences between the AC and TC teachers in this study in their average scores on college entrance exams, the selectivity of the college that awarded their bachelor's degree, or their level of educational attainment. Both low- and high-coursework AC teachers were more likely than their TC counterparts to identify themselves as black (40.5 percent versus 17.5 percent and 32.4 percent versus 7.5 percent) and less likely to identify themselves as white (50 percent versus 75.5 percent and 40.5 percent versus 70 percent). In addition, the low-coursework AC teachers were more likely than their TC counterparts to report having children (70.2 percent versus 28.3 percent).
  • There was no statistically significant difference in performance between students of AC teachers and those of TC teachers. Average differences in reading and math achievement were not statistically significant. Furthermore, students of AC teachers scored higher than students of their TC counterparts in nearly as many cases as they scored lower (49 percent in reading and 44 percent in math). The effects of AC teachers varied across experiments, and nonexperimental correlational analysis of teachers' pretraining and training experiences explained 5 percent of the variation in math and 2 percent in reading. Therefore, the route to certification selected by a prospective teacher is unlikely to provide information, on average, about the expected quality of that teacher in terms of student achievement.
  • There is no evidence from this study that greater levels of teacher training coursework were associated with the effectiveness of AC teachers in the classroom. The experimental results provided no evidence that students of low-coursework AC teachers scored statistically differently from students of their TC counterparts, nor did students of high-coursework AC teachers compared to those of their TC counterparts. Correlational analysis similarly failed to show that the amount of coursework was associated with student achievement. Therefore, there is no evidence that AC programs with greater coursework requirements produce more effective teachers.
  • There is no evidence that the content of coursework is correlated with teacher effectiveness. After controlling for other observable characteristics that may be correlated with a teacher's effectiveness, there was no statistically significant relationship between student test scores and the content of the teacher's training, including the number of required hours of math pedagogy, reading/language arts pedagogy, or fieldwork. Similarly, there was no evidence of a statistically positive relationship between majoring in education and student achievement.


2 Throughout the report, we use the terms "teacher effects" and "teacher effectiveness" to denote the effect of teachers on student achievement or classroom practices.