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AACTE Critiques Proposed Accreditation Standards

Though it praises the overall thrust of a proposed set of accreditation standards, the main membership organization for teacher colleges this week also highlighted concerns about some specifics.

In a feedback document on its website, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, questions, in particular, the accreditor's ideas for candidate selection, measuring program outcomes, and creating a special recognition for top programs.

The Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation unveiled its proposed standards in February, and then sought public comment. It's received more than 500 responses, including from parents, traditional and alternative preparation faculty, and teachers, a spokeswoman said. (CAEP is the new body formed from the merger of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the smaller Teacher Education Accreditation Council.)

AACTE's feedback is particularly noteworthy because as an organization with 811 member institutions, it reflects what a broad segment of the field believes about the proposal. It has historically also been a financial supporter of NCATE.

CAEP's proposed standards, as I outlined earlier, are generally more specific and more focused on outcomes than previous iterations. They will require programs to gather more sources of evidence in order to meet the standards. And some long-standing themes were dropped or tailored. For example, issues of increasing the diversity of faculty and teachers were braided throughout the draft, rather than isolated in a separate standard.

Here's a look at some of AACTE's thoughts and concerns on the standards.

Inputs and Outputs

The balance of whether accreditation should rely on inputs or on measurable outcomes was one main theme sounded in the letter.

"I would urge CAEP to be mindful that accreditation is not about focusing on outcomes over inputs," AACTE President Sharon P. Robinson states in the letter. "It is about how, over time, the inputs and processes that CAEP measures are more directly tied to positive program outcomes."

By contrast, AACTE's complaints about a controversial review of ed. schools by the National Council on Teacher Quality generally take the opposite tack: That project's emphasis on document review, AACTE said a few years back, is too input-focused.

In a phone interview, Robinson said that input and output measures are "two sides of an important equation, and the equation has to balance. Neither of these measures can speak for themselves. If you have outcome measures alone, you can't tell me how to produce them without knowing what went into it. If you have input measures primarily, you can't necessarily tell me what you got."

AACTE, in the letter, also says that value-added measures are inconclusive, and worries that programs that have many graduates teach out of state would be penalized for not being able to track those candidates.

Selection

Among other things, CAEP envisioned requiring each institute's pool of entry candidates to average a 3.0 GPA and to score in the top third of performance on a nationally normed college-entrance exam. But AACTE harbors "serious concerns about how these selectivity standards, particularly regarding the proposed program admission requirements, will impact recruitment candidates of color and other underrepresented groups," the letter states.

AACTE's own data show that its members set an average undergraduate GPA requirement of 2.6, while the average GPA of admitted students tops 3.24. Still, Robinson said that she wasn't sure that an accreditor should itself formally require programs to set a higher bar.

"If a program has a mission taking people having a 2.7 GPA and producing folks that can be effective teachers based on some outcome measure, why would the accreditor want to interfere with the mission of the institution?" she said.

The group doesn't like the focus on college-entrance exams, because such tests focus on first-year success in college, whereas most undergraduates begin their teacher-preparation program in their junior year. "No empirical evidence shows that tests such as the SAT and ACT are predictive of how well a teacher-candidate will perform in a preparation program and/or impact student learning, the letter says.

Advanced Accreditation

The group contests the CAEP proposal to create a "gold standard" for the best programs, saying it will "breed exclusivity and lend itself well to many efforts in the policy arena to tie student financial aid to only the highest-performing preparation programs."

Teacher-preparation policy nerds will remember that such a proposal was a serious bone of contention during last year's attempt to build consensus on federal teacher-preparation-accountability rules.

Of course, AACTE also found things to like in the proposal. It applauded the focus on partnerships with receiving districts, CAEP's proposal to help guide states toward national cut scores on licensing tests, and the document's focus on ensuring teaching-candidates can use research, evidence, technology, and assessments to improve teaching and learning.

Mostly, Robinson said, the group wants to ensure that the criteria for meeting each standard is clear.

"Overall, it's a smart, comprehensive, provocative set of draft standards," she said. "I think they did a good job...and trust that they will pay attention to the feedback."

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