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Teacher-Training Standards: Change and Debate

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Washington--The number of colleges of education with programs that failed to meet the standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education increased "significantly" in 1984-85, officials of the organization said last week.

The increase in denials of accreditation stems, the officials said, from a conscious effort to "get tougher." ncate, which approves the teacher-training programs of colleges and universities, has been criticized in the past for being "weak" and arbitrary in its evaluations.

But this past school year, ncate refused to approve one or more programs at 24 percent of the colleges of education applying for accreditation--more than double the denial rate of 1983-84, according to Richard C. Kunkel, executive director of ncate.

In 1983-84, 11 percent of the colleges applying had programs that were not approved. The 1982-83 rate was 6.7 percent.

Colleges with programs denied accreditation were notified by phone on Oct. 15. Notification was followed by an "action letter" outlining the specific standards not met.

Colleges planning to appeal the decision must notify Mr. Kunkel within 15 days of receiving the council's letter.

If an institution does not appeal, the denial will be publicly disclosed within 30 days of ncate's written notification, and council officials will inform the chief state school officer and the state affiliate of the National Education Association.

Mr. Kunkel and other council members attributed the increase in denials of accreditation to two years of "discussions" within ncate about toughening standards.

This past summer, ncate officials approved unanimously the "redesign" of the organization's standards and procedures for accrediting teacher-education programs.

Although the redesign standards do not go into effect across the board until the 1988-89 school year, Mr. Kunkel said all the talk of increased standards has caused the council to "just get tougher" this year.

The new standards will require students entering ncate-accredited programs to have at least a 2.5 college grade-point average and to take a standardized basic-skills test.

In addition, accredited teacher-training programs will be required to assess the skills of prospective teachers prior to graduation, to follow their students through their first year of teaching, and to provide "quantitative" information on the quality of instruction the students receive at the college of education. (See Education Week, June 19, 1985.)

(The council voted this month to adopt a proposal, presented by M. Stephen Lilly, dean of the college of education at Washington State University at Pullman, to "refine" the timetable for the redesign. Colleges of education scheduled for a site visit in 1987-88 will be required to meet the new standards, but their site visits will be delayed until 1988-89.)

More Specific Standards

In recent years, ncate's own members and other higher-education organizations have criticized ncate standards and procedures as a "rubber ruler," applied arbitrarily and not based on enough measurable data.

According to Mr. Kunkel, the new standards are much more specific and address those charges.

"I think the discussion about new standards to reduce the rubber ruler has caused the current council to be hard-nosed in applying the current standards," Mr. Kunkel speculated.

The council members, he said, have had the new standards "in the back of their minds" in making accrediting decisions and have applied the current standards "as if there were no rubber ruler."

Mr. Kunkel added that the council has been particularly demanding about faculty requirements. "The excellence movement has put such attention on teacher education that the profession is holding much more stringent standards about who is teaching in the colleges," he said.

'Positive Step'

Marjorie Pike, chairman of an ncate accrediting team and an administrator in the Robertson (Tenn.) School District, concurred that council members were more demanding this year in making accrediting decisions. She called the revision of ncate standards a "positive step," saying that ultimately, colleges of education would appreciate the rigorous requirements. "They want us to be tough," she added.

According to Ms. Pike, education-school officials need ncate in order to show the university community, school administrators, and students and their parents that their training programs have a national stamp of approval.

Even if the ncate evaluation exposes weaknesses, as it did for nearly one-fourth of the 63 teacher-training institutions evaluated in 1984-85, education deans can use that information to their advantage, Ms. Pike said.

"They know where the programs need work," she said.

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