A set of proposed standards for teacher-preparation programs unveiled today by the Washington-based Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation are leaner, more specific, and more outcomes-focused than any prior set in the 60-year history of national teacher-college accreditation.
Put together by a CAEP-commissioned panel of some 40 members, including teacher educators from both traditional and alternative programs, representatives from advocacy organizations, states, and districts, the standards would for the first time require accredited programs to adhere to a prescribed minimum-admissions standard.
CAEP is the newly created successor to two former national teacher-college-accreditation bodies.
The proposed standards would also require programs to consider "value added" test-score-growth data alongside other measures to examine graduates' ability to boost P-12 academic achievement, and to continue refining existing quality-assurance measures. (Value-added attempts to isolate the specific contributions of teachers or, in the context of teacher preparation, groups of teachers, on student learning.)
Some of those requirements touch on hotly debated topics within the teacher-preparation field, and as such, the standards are likely to meet with a diverse response from the field. As evidenced by a federal effort to write new teacher-training-accountability rules last year, there are deep ideological divides in the field about these ideas. It is generally split between those who favor an emphasis on outcomes-based on such measures as test scores and employer-statisfaction surveys, and others who see such requirements as too expensive, burdensome, and error-prone.
CAEP President James G. Cibulka, however, said that the panel ultimately came down in favor of a shift toward outcomes, in part because of a thin and largely anecdotal teacher education research base that has long plagued programs' attempts to determine best practices. Remedying that will require the field to put a heavier emphasis on evidence, a theme woven throughout the document.
"In order to improve the way we prepare teachers, we have to have better evidence of effective practices in preparing teachers, and that means being able to link measures on outcomes and impact back to the characteristics of the programs themselves, and the nature of the candidates who were admitted to the programs," Cibulka said in an interview. "Right now, we're in an unacceptable kind of situation where we have quite weak evidence all the way around, and it's going to take some time to build a strong evidentiary base. ... We can't back away from the challenge."
Five New Standards
In operation as of January, CAEP is the new accreditation body created by the 2010 agreement between the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the much smaller Teacher Education Accreditation Council to merge.
Beginning Feb. 22, CAEP will accept public feedback on the draft through March 29, after which the commission will develop a final set of standards. The final set must be approved by CAEP's board, a process officials expect will occur this summer.
Assuming that timeline holds, teacher-preparation programs could voluntarily seek accreditation under the new standards beginning in early 2014. They would become mandatory for programs seeking the CAEP seal of approval by 2016.
The draft outlines the five standards, each of which has multiple subcomponents, and the type of evidence a program could submit to show that it has met that standard. They are:
1. Content and Pedagogical Knowledge: This standard is fairly self-explanatory. Programs would have to bring forth evidence that candidates pass licensing assessments and can apply pedagogical techniques through performance-based observations or exams. Of particular note, the commission recommends that states set common test cutoff scores on shared licensing exams and limit the number of passing attempts.
2. Clinical Partnerships and Practice: This refers to student-teaching and other classroom-based experiences. Programs will have to show that they work in partnerships with receiving districts,monitor and select high quality supervisors, and give students plenty of classroom practice and feedback.
3. Candidate Quality, Recruitment, and Selectivity:Among other things, the standard would require each program to meet either its state-set admissions requirement, or a CAEP minimum, whichever is higher. The CAEP minimum consists of an average GPA of 3.0, and in addition, each admission group would need average performance in the top third of scores on a nationally normed academic-admissions test, such as the GRE or the ACT. (Eagle-eyed watchers will note that CAEP officials had hinted at the importance of selection some time ago.)
4. Program Impact: Programs would have to show their impact on P-12 student learning through value-added measures, where available, in addition to other measures. They would also need to show through such instruments as surveys that employers and candidates are satisfied with preparation.
5. Provider Quality, Continuous Improvement, and Capacity: This standard would require programs to use the data collected in other standards to create a feedback loop to improve their programming. It would consist of such measures as graduation rates, student-loan-default rates, and ability of candidates to complete licensing requirements. Its closest parallel is to standard 2 from NCATE's 2001 revision, which required each program to set up a series of assessments to trace candidate progress.
In addition, CAEP expects that it will collect and report some of the data from standards 4 and 5 on an annual basis, even those that are not being assessed for accreditation or reaccreditation that year. It would use these data, in part, to identify if programs were slipping in between accreditation cycles.
The commission also envisions a significant technical-assistance role for CAEP. For instance, because not all programs are located in states that can generate the required impact information, it recommends that CAEP work with states to help secure these data, and with programs to refine and make use of what's currently available.
Because the focus of the new regulations is the evidence that programs can submit relative to the standards, the commission recommends setting an evidence threshold for each of the five standards, based on criteria that will be developed. Teacher-preparation programs would be assessed on the degree to which they met this threshold.
As for levels of accreditation, programs would be put on probation if they fell below the threshold in one standard, and would be denied accreditation for falling below it in two or more standards. As a type of safeguard, however, no program could be accredited unless it was deemed satisfactory on standard 4 on the program's impact on learning, and on parts of standard 5 on quality assurance.
CAEP would also create a new level for exemplary programs that exceed some of the five standards.
The proposed standards step squarely into highly contentious policy debates. For instance, some educators and researchers have raised questions about the validity of applying value-added modeling to preparation programs, or worry that higher standards could have unintended effects, such as decreasing the number of minority candidates entering teaching.
Teacher-college accreditation in the United States is generally voluntary, though five states require their programs to seek accreditation. States can also enter into partnership agreements that make use of CAEP reviewers as part of the program-approval process.
Education Week will shortly be following up on reaction in the field to these measures. So if you are a state official, a faculty member, a program administrator, or a teacher-candidate, please weigh in in the comments section, or contact me directly. (And don't forget to send your feedback to CAEP, of course.)