When I survey the accreditation and assessment landscape, I see three factors at play.
First, President Obama’s recent call for accreditation reform has served as a wake-up call for all involved. Second, the era of big data is ushering in tremendous opportunities for data collection, analysis and data-driven decision making.
Third, the recent merger of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and The Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) to form the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) has created yet another set of robust, rigorous standards by which teacher preparation programs will be judged.
1. Rethinking Accreditation
Accreditation is important for many reasons, including the fact that students can only use federal Title IV (financial aid) funds for programs at accredited institutions. This is one reason why so many eyebrows were raised recently when President Obama mentioned accreditation. Supplemental documentation released after Obama’s February 2013 State of the Union Address included the following:
“The president will call on Congress to consider value, affordability, and student outcomes in making determinations about which colleges and universities receive access to federal student aid, either by incorporating measures of value and affordability into the existing accreditation system; or by establishing a new, alternative system of accreditation that would provide pathways for higher education models and colleges to receive federal student aid based on performance and results.”
Traditional accrediting bodies are concerned about the mention of “a new, alternative system of accreditation” that seems to allow for the accreditation of higher education models that may not be traditional colleges. I, for one, think it will be interesting to see the details of his proposal emerge.
Might this mean individual courses could become accredited? Could professional development offerings become accredited? Will increased competition for federal student aid lead to innovation and improvement in offerings at traditional colleges?
As usual, the devil is in the details. What did the President mean by “measures of value and affordability”? Will we see the rise of rankings systems by which institutions will be judged? Who will determine what variables factor into those rankings? Time will tell.
2. The Potential of Big Data
Big data is the common label for the notion that technology continues to advance our ability to collect data. Data on your spending habits, online reading habits, preferences, tastes, decisions and so on are collected and stored every day. This data can then be analyzed or massaged to create profiles of consumers, students and other groups.
When used in the world of higher education, big data can give us insights into student and teacher behaviors. As it relates to accreditation, big data can give us tremendous detail about exactly what students are or are not learning in their courses. By drilling down to the objective level on assessments, interested parties can see which standards have been met and at what level of proficiency, which is the main objective of accreditation. Big data will allow us to view an ever increasing granular level of detail regarding student performance and will help facilitate decision making based on that data.
3. Emerging Standards
Last year, the two most respected, important accrediting bodies for teacher education, NCATE and TEAC, formally merged into a new organization, CAEP. CAEP contains many of the same standards and elements of NCATE and TEAC, but is even more robust and rigorous than either of those organizations was alone.
CAEP will change the way schools of education operate. That is, there are many changes coming our way, including raising the bar for admission into a teacher preparation program and additional data-tracking measures.
The new CAEP standards include:
- Content and Pedagogical Knowledge
- Clinical Partnerships and Practice
- Candidate Quality, Recruitment and Selectivity
- Program Impact
- Provider Quality Assurance and Continuous Improvement
The changes mean higher education institutions will now need to show how they meet each of the new standards rather than the previous NCATE or TEAC standards. A huge learning curve is ahead as program leaders work to understand exactly what is required, how to report it and what data to collect, and then infuse the new standards throughout educator preparation programs.
Taken together, these three factors will likely mean big changes to what is meant by accreditation, the data collected to document it and how colleges and universities go about acquiring it.
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