ABCTE Teachers Outgain the Competition

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

An analysis of Florida test score data from Georgia State Economist Tim R. Sass provides encouraging news for supporters of alternative teacher certification. The Florida data warehouse contains information about the route that teachers took for certification, and information about the types and number of courses taken in college. Sass includes a number of tables on background characteristics of teachers, and finds that alternatively certified teachers tend have higher SAT scores and took more math courses in college than traditionally certified teachers.

Sass performs an analysis of student learning gains by certification route, and finds that alternatively certified teachers have similar academic gains to traditionally certified teachers. This is similar to the findings previous certification studies. Sass however found better than average results for ABCTE:

The performance of ABCTE teachers in teaching math is substantially better, on average, than for preparation program graduates. Across all specifications and tests, ABCTE teachers boost math achievement by six to eleven percent of a standard deviation more than do traditionally prepared teachers.

The ABCTE route receives no state money and costs a fraction what students must pay for the College of Education route. Sass rightly cautions that the ABCTE cohort is not huge (there are multiple different routes to certification in Florida) so there should be further research conducted. Like the TFA research, the gains for reading are much smaller than those for math, which merits further investigation. The cut-scores for the ABCTE content knowledge exams are challenging, so it is gratifying to see the ABCTE teachers achieving larger student learning gains.

The philanthropists who have strongly supported Teach for America over the years should take note of these findings. The universe of potential career switchers with solid content backgrounds can add to the ultimately limited pool of Ivy League students willing to serve through TFA, and our students need all the help they can get.

As for teacher certification and Colleges of Education why do we have those again? The descriptive tables in the Sass study show that alternative certification can be a method for increasing the selectivity of the teaching pool (higher college entrance scores, more content knowledge courses, etc.). The results of this study reinforce previous findings that whatever is going on during those 30 hours of course work, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with better student results on the back-end.

5 Responses to ABCTE Teachers Outgain the Competition

  1. Joe in LA - slowly leaving the Republican Party says:

    Is there any research telling what these teachers DO differently. Those facts wouild be key for me. I’m a 1976 graduate with a B.A. in on of the social sciences and about 21 credits in teaching classes and student teaching. SOme of it was BS. I am a fairly successful teacher – a little burned out, by the frustrations of being hampered by stupid, Board of Ed, Suiperintendant, Ed. bureauracy, and politicians decisions (and by the painfully poor parenting of this current generation). That said, I find that the difference between good and bad teachers has little to do with academic preparation and much to do with one’s innate abilities. Those who have “it” can be taught to teacher better. Those without “it” forever miss their targets, i.e. the students.

    BTW – NOTHING can help a student who spends the majority of their efforts avoid work and the parents (and administration & politician) who enable them. In 1999 some dumbass Asst. superintendent for middles schools convinced the Board to stop holding back failing students. The result: 80% of students who would have worked for a D now don’t work and get Fs, 50% of students who would have worked for a C now don’t and get Ds. My bell curve is now a U.

    ANd the pundits and the politicians beat me up in the media. Hey dummies! NO ONE gives more than you deserve if you figuratively beat them up for 5-10 years.

  2. Joe in LA - slowly leaving the Republican Party says:

    P.S. I’m going to use your headline as an example of misleading media to my students. Thanks, for the real-world example!

  3. matthewladner says:


    Sorry to hear about your experience with admin, but there is nothing misleading about the headline-read the study for yourself.

    While you are at it, read the descriptive tables. Perhaps more ABCTE teachers have “it” because they have real world experience outside of a school setting and have more college content courses. Maybe the fact that they have higher average SAT scores and were more likely to attend selective institutions has something to do with it.

    Whatever the case, ABCTE hardly solves all of the problems of education system, especially not hardened undermotivated students or incompetent administrators. If we are going to sit on our hands and wait for that magical program, we’ll be waiting for some time.

    ABCTE can help get capable teachers into the classroom, and thus ccan help with one of the problems.

  4. Dave Saba says:

    We took significant grief at ABCTE for having a very high cut score on math and a pass rate that barely broke 35% back when these teachers were coming through which is one factor. They had to study very hard to get a passing score (and they only had three chances or they could not get in the classroom unlike other tests you take until you pass). Selectivity works.

    A second factor which is fodder for the journal of anecdotal evidence is that the people coming through the program really had a calling to teach and were extremely motivated to get into the classroom. Because they had been in industries where it is common to receive more on the job training, they sought input from principals and other teachers once in they were classroom on how to improve their craft. One teacher who became a board member challenged a principal who came to observe because he only spent a few minutes in his classroom at the end of the day. He told the principal he had to come back in the morning and really observe him and give him feedback on how to improve. Maturity helps.

    It is extremely gratifying to see these results and know that we provided a pathway for these talented individuals to get into the classroom. At every turn teacher unions tried to stop this – but in the end, the kids won!

  5. Ernie Thomas says:

    I taught a bit in college several years ago. Later I moved to the corporate world and had several jobs including training and education for many young collge grads.

    I decided a couple of years ago to offer to sub —it was to be my “pay it forward”.. ( I have been blessed in life). Strange thing…I never stopped teaching and have taught every day since.

    The weird thing with US education is that our college grads can teach our teachers how to teach (or teach subject areas) without a certificate…BUT, we must have a cert to teach kids!!. I think it is pretty silly when you think about it.. But we all know it is a political/union/teacher hot potato..

    So, after I started teaching, my principal suggested that I should get a certificate. He mentioned ABCTE. I had looked into a couple of MAT programs…one costing $62,000! I decided to try ABCTE.

    Yes…it is tough… I had evil thoughts at times about how tough the ABCTE program is…:) But it has been worth it.

    I teach STEM subjects. I have always felt well trained at industry events…ACT Prep, STEM conferences, (I am a member of one of CERNER’s development groups), NSTA, etc. ABCTE is solid–and they prepare their teachers—they actually want their teachers to be a cut above all others….it is a big deal for them…that’s possibly why so many don’t make it.

    ABCTE is tough…if you want an easy program don’t spend your money.. If you want to save money, a little time and learn somethin go with ABCTE. Their alums really try to help those going through the program and their staff and management are great.

    Ernie Thomas

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