Teacher Preparation

Reflecting on First-Round Accreditation Reviews Under ‘Tougher’ Standards

By Brenda Iasevoli — December 01, 2016 6 min read
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The first round of accreditation decisions for teacher prep programs under a new set of so-called “tougher” standards is now over. This was a big test for the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), which was conceived in 2010, and whose job it was to unite the embattled field behind one set of standards. So how did it go?

Out of 21 teacher preparation programs from 14 states that were seeking accreditation under the new standards, 17 have met all expectations and gained accreditation, while four programs have failed to meet all the required standards, according to an inaugural report that CAEP released on Monday.

“The most challenging part of the process for many programs is figuring out how best to collect the data they need, given that they may not even have access to that data,” said Kim Walters-Parker, the chairwoman of the CAEP accreditation council.

The programs need to collect data showing their graduates’ impact on student learning. But some states are forbidden to provide the data, according to Walters-Parker. “That’s a huge challenge,” she said, “but we’re hopeful that going forward we can convince states to give us better data so we can help them get better teachers.”

Education schools are judged on five standards, which place a strong emphasis on outcomes, including the academic achievement of students taught by each program’s graduates. Each standard contains multiple benchmarks. Fail to meet just one of those benchmarks, and CAEP withholds its accreditation stamp of approval for two years, until the program can provide proof that it has remedied the problem and now meets all parts of the standard.

That’s exactly what happened to the education college at the University of Utah, in Salt Lake City. CAEP gave the program “probationary accreditation” for failing to meet one part of standard 4. The goal of standard 4 is to measure graduates’ impact in the classroom. A program must provide student test scores, along with evidence that graduates and graduates’ employers are satisfied with the preparation the teachers received. The graduates’ satisfaction might be shown through surveys they complete about how prepared they were for the realities of teaching, while employer satisfaction might be shown through retention data.

The University of Utah’s college of education provided evidence for all of the above. But it failed to meet one part of standard 4: “indicators of teaching effectiveness.” This part requires programs to show “through structured validated observation instruments and/or student surveys, that completers effectively apply the
 professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions that the preparation experiences were designed to achieve.” Simply put, the program needed to send a professor to the graduates’ classrooms, either to observe the graduates’ teaching or elicit feedback from the graduates’ students through a survey.

“I’ll be honest with you,” said Mary Burbank, an assistant dean for teacher education at the University of Utah, “to miss the entire standard when we have provided data that shows we meet multiple benchmarks, it’s frustrating.”

Burbank noted the obstacles to gaining access to teachers’ classrooms and their students, but that wasn’t the only source of her frustration. CAEP’s website, according to Burbank, allows until 2018 to phase in the standard’s requirements. Here is the relevant language on the website: “Provide operational guidance for the requirement that EPPs [education preparation providers] ‘meet all components’ of Standard 4 for full accreditation by extending the timeline for quality evidence through 2018.”

In light of that language, Burbank has requested that CAEP review its decision. “To physically go to schools and observe graduates and gather data from students about our grads, this is a process that has to gradually unfold,” she said. “It requires cooperation of districts, schools, the university, FERPA [Family Education Rights and Privacy Act] compliance as well as Institutional Review Board clearance. I’m harping, I know, but citing CAEP’s own website, they are allowing a phase-in until 2018, and we are requesting that they give us more time according to their own policy.”

What’s more, Burbank said CAEP should have told the program it was not meeting the standard in their correspondence during the accreditation process, between January and September of this year. She says the review was complete in January and the program should have received feedback from CAEP in a month, but did not receive a report until late September.

Walters-Parker said she couldn’t discuss the cases of individual programs, but did say that the accreditor has been working to streamline its processes, improve training for its reviewers, and is starting to see success. “We’re dealing with a uniform system going forward,” she said, referring to the division created when, in 2010, the merger of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, or NCATE, and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, or TEAC, created CAEP. (Read more about that here). “So now we have one set of procedures, one set of training, which will help CAEP with the workload and help turn around reports, get feedback to EPPs [educator preparation providers], and other communication more efficiently.”

That the accreditation process seems to be smoothing out is clear, according to Burbank, who said she appreciated that CAEP responded right away to her request for review. She expects to get a final decision soon.

Donna L. Wiseman, the dean of the college of education at the University of Maryland, served on the committee when CAEP got its start. She said the university’s education program is now preparing for its accreditation review from CAEP, which will take place in 2018, and so far her view is that CAEP continues to improve. Yet while Wiseman is confident that her program will easily pass muster, she doesn’t necessarily agree with all of the standards on which it will be judged.

One standard that Wiseman takes issue with is standard 3, which requires program candidates to collectively meet an average 3.0 GPA by graduation. While she said the University of Maryland’s program can meet the requirement, she considers the benchmark arbitrary. “I would feel much better about this requirement if there were research to support it,” she said. “You can have a high GPA, but then find it overwhelming to have to respond to 25 little people in front of you. And there are many good examples of students with low GPAs who turned out to be great teachers.”

Burbank agreed that the standards should be backed by research, and said the part of standard 4 that the University of Utah’s program failed—the part that requires the program to observe its teachers—is not backed by research. “The basic purpose is to look systematically and thoughtfully at programs so if we can peel away the minutiae and tedium of data collection and look more thoughtfully at programs, we might ask: Do those forms of data equate with quality?”

She said she plans to have these discussions with officials at the University of Utah’s college of education, with the state, and with CAEP.

Walters-Parker of CAEP said the group has no immediate plans to revise any of the standards, but she doesn’t rule it out entirely. “It’s important to the field that people know what to expect and that we keep the process as consistent as possible,” she said. “But we also understand that there will be times when things will have to be revised. Established standards are needed, of course, but we won’t hold on to them to the point of being hardheaded and stubborn.”

While CAEP is working out the kinks in its processes, it has one big problem to contend with: The accreditor has not yet earned recognition from the U.S. Department of Education. (CAEP is working on it, but it will take years, according to Wiseman.) This causes trouble for the University of Maryland’s program because the state’s law requires that the teacher-prep accreditor have the approval of a federal group. “We’re working with the state department of education and with CAEP to fix this,” Wiseman said. “We have to change the language of the law; otherwise, we can’t certify teachers.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.