Study: Alternatively Certified Teachers Outscore Traditional Counterparts

Published May 8, 2012

Alternatively certified teachers are as good as or better than those certified traditionally, according to a study of Florida test score data by Georgia State economist Tim Sass.

Differences between the two are due largely to the type of applicant they draw, the stuy shows. Average SAT scores of alternatively certified teachers are 100 points higher than those of traditionally certified teachers, and graduates of the alternative-route American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence (ABCTE) average 150 points higher.

While approximately two-thirds of traditionally certified teachers passed the math portion of the licensure exam the first time, almost all ABCTE teachers did, Sass found.

“One large caveat,” he said: Sass’s sample of ABCTE teachers is slightly fewer than 100. He is working to increase it.

The ABCTE graduates’ stronger showing is consistent with the organization’s internal research, said ABCTE CEO Albert Chen.

“It’s really nice to see a third-party corroboration of that data,” he said.

Liberalization Sparks Quality
On par with traditionally trained teachers in reading, ABCTE teachers’ performance in mathematics is “substantially better, on average,” the report says.

ABCTE requires online courses, then qualifying exams, rather than the extensive coursework in education required for traditional graduates.

“It’s attracting a different kind of person—someone who has a degree in something other than education and doesn’t want to obtain additional coursework that wouldn’t transfer to other occupations,” Sass said.

More Content Knowledge
Whereas traditionally certified teachers major in education, graduates of ABCTE and the like more often graduate with degrees in the subject matter they will teach. Sass notes alternatively certified teachers are more likely to teach middle and high school, instead of elementary grades, than traditional ed school graduates. This, he said, could account for some of the performance differences.

“One possibility is that content knowledge may trump [pedagogical skills] in older grades,” he said.

The average age of ABCTE applicants is 39, Chen said, so these “second-career” teachers have had 10 to 20 years of experience in their field before entering education.

“It’s not surprising that these programs are producing teachers who are really, really good at accomplishing greater student achievement in certain subject areas,” said Dr. Emily Feistritzer, president and CEO of the National Center for Alternative Certification. “Teachers are coming from actual career experiences in that field. People who have majored in that as an undergraduate and started teaching right way, they don’t have that added component.”

Higher Retention Rates
Feistritzer dispelled a popular myth that alternatively certified teachers are more likely to leave the profession.

“The research is actually to the contrary,” she said, noting the retention rate after five years for alternatively certified teachers is 87 percent, much higher than for teachers straight out of an undergraduate education program.

Chen said ABCTE graduates stay because they are invested in the communities where they teach.


Learn more:
“Certification Requirements and Teacher Quality,” Georgia State University. 2011:


Image by the University of Central Arkansas.