School & District Management

Tougher Requirements Ahead for Teacher Prep

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 09, 2013 6 min read
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A panel tapped by the national accreditation body for teacher preparation has finalized a set of standards that, for the first time, establishes minimum admissions criteria and requires programs to use much-debated “value added” measures, where available.

The action promises to have major ramifications for how programs select, prepare, and gauge the success of new teachers. Already, programs planning to seek the seal of approval from the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation say the standards are significantly more demanding than those used by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, one of two accreditors that preceded CAEP.

“These standards, when you get down to it, are really different, and they are much more challenging,” said Michael J. Maher, the assistant dean of the education school at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. “Even as a college that’s been NCATE-accredited and made our way through that process, we clearly see some new things we’re going to have to do.”

The commission finalized the CAEP standards over a two-day period last month. CAEP’s board is expected to sign off on them next month.

With its inclusion of performance measures and requirements for surveying graduates and employers on program quality, the draft embraces some of the very same concepts that many higher education representatives opposed during a 2012 attempt by the U.S. Department of Education to negotiate revisions to the federal accountability rules for teacher preparation.

Observers said the CAEP standards’ specificity and emphasis on performance were unusual in accreditation circles.

“This is the most measured and evidence-heavy proposed accreditation process I’ve ever been privy to,” Peter Ewell, the vice president at the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, a research center that works to improve college efficiency, told the panel during a meeting last month. “You are being very gutsy.”

The new standards fall into five broad categories: equipping candidates with content knowledge and appropriate pedagogical tools; working in partnership with districts to provide strong student-teaching practice and feedback; recruiting a diverse and academically strong group of candidates; demonstrating that graduates are successful boosting P-12 students’ academic achievement; and maintaining a quality-assurance system.

Preparation programs would be assessed on the evidence they produced to meet each standard.

Sticky Wicket

Although several of the panel’s proposals were controversial, most were preserved. The panel kept a requirement for programs to set minimum entry requirements for each cohort of candidates, including a cohort minimum GPA average of 3.0 and an average score in the top third of the distribution on a nationally normed achievement test. The panel approved the language, despite concerns that such stipulations might harm the diversity of the teaching force.

The requirement will apply to all teacher-candidates, even if they have been out of high school or college for some time. CAEP will phase in the entry standard over several years, but it will nevertheless be a stretch for some programs.

“If you have an open-admissions policy, you are not going to be accredited,” noted Mary Brabeck, the dean of New York University’s education school and the chairwoman of the subcommittee that drafted the standard on selection.

And although the draft standards’ proposal to highlight a small number of “gold standard” programs that excel on the five standards got a chilly reception from the field, the commission held firm to the initiative.

The stickiest point for the panel proved to be reconciling different opinions about using student-achievement measures to help gauge program quality. Representatives of the national teachers’ unions feared such measures might be misused, or could dominate other considerations.

“We don’t want our institutions of higher ed. to chase things that have been put in place that are not serving our kids or our teachers,” said Becky Pringle, the vice president of the National Education Association. “I don’t want us to build on top of things that were not done well.”

The finalized draft makes more explicit that programs must take multiple measures into account in determining how well graduates fare in the field. But they must still consider “all available growth measures,” including value-added ones, used by the state for evaluating teachers.

“It is a remarkable thing to say that a professional program is going to trace its graduates into the field,” said Richard De Lisi, a panelist and the dean of the graduate school of education at Rutgers University in New Jersey. “I don’t think any other field does this to its graduates. It’s absolutely path-breaking.”

The commission also established eight criteria that programs would have to report annually, such as graduation rates and teaching effectiveness. Because accreditation typically occurs only once every seven years, the annual report will help gauge programs’ shorter-term changes, panelists said.

New Role, New Questions

The finalized standards brought a variety of opinions about how they will play out on the ground.

“Some institutions either won’t be able to meet the standards, or they’ll look at it and say it’s too cost-intensive, labor-intensive, requires too many changes, or that they don’t have the high-quality candidates needed,” Mr. Maher said. “You may see some closing of programs.”

He said his university, which produces about 400 teachers each year, will retool the surveys it sends to employers, use value-added measures and performance-assessment data to judge programs’ impact, and raise its own admissions standard, even though it’s already at the 3.0 mark.

Sam Evans, the dean of the school of education at Western Kentucky University, said some of the new measures will have to be approached cautiously. For instance, he noted that most student-growth data are limited to reading and math, even though colleges produce teachers in dozens of subjects.

The standard on student-teaching, he added, will require colleges and school districts to take their work together more seriously.

But overall, he said, “I see this as an opportunity, not a challenge. We have to keep our P-12 students foremost in our work.”

Robert C. Pianta, the dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, meanwhile, said he wished the commission had elaborated on some of the implications of the standards’ focus on evidence.

“Programs will struggle in terms of defining evidence, the technical properties for collecting evidence, selecting reliable and valid indicators, and the use of the evidence,” he said. “And there’s not a lot of guidance on that.”

The role of teasing out best practices, disseminating them, and helping institutions work together to inculcate them may well fall to CAEP itself.

“This is a cultural shift for our field, and we won’t be able to make it successfully unless we engage programs to become more sophisticated as to the use of evidence,” CAEP President James G. Cibulka acknowledged during the meeting.

Finally, panelists and observers alike said, CAEP will need to show that it will hold institutions to meeting the higher standards—a delicate balancing act for an organization whose revenue is generated largely by the programs it assesses.

Between 2007 and 2013, NCATE denied or revoked accreditation only 11 times, records show.

If the CAEP standards are enforced, “it will mean some people will no longer be in the business of preparing teachers, said Mr. Evans. “Anything less than quality is not acceptable, and I think for too long we’ve pulled people through the knothole and allowed programs to receive accreditation.”

Added Ms. Brabeck of NYU: “Ultimately, we have to believe that the accreditor is going to uphold the standard.”

A version of this article appeared in the July 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as Teacher Ed. Is Facing Higher Bar

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