Gains and Challenges in the National Accreditation Process: A Case Study
Mirta Barrea-Marlys, PhD Jingzi Huang, PhD Monmouth University USAPrevious Page
In the current standards movement in the US, all institutions housing a school of education are facing the challenges to be nationally recognized by addressing a set of standards by major national accrediting bodies such as NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teaching Education). While the rigorous NCATE Standards set high expectations for teacher education programs which presumably will lead to stronger teacher education programs in the US, the process of earning national recognition is a challenging one that requires collaboration and creativity from all sides of the university. In the research area, while very limited studies exist examining the strengths and weaknesses of the established national standards and explore the relations between national accreditation and the quality of programs (e.g., Newman & Hanauer, 2005; Warner, 1993), there is little known about the specific efforts and struggles accompanying the accreditation process. An exploration focusing on the details of the process may contribute to a more in-depth understanding of the accreditation phenomenon.
This article reports on a self-study to examine the struggle experienced at a medium size, comprehensive university in the US in an effort to address the requirement for national accreditation to strengthen its teacher education program. Using its foreign language education program as a case, it explores critical accreditation issues related to intradepartmental collaboration, acquisition and assessment of content and pedagogical knowledge of teacher candidates, and the support or lack of support from the accrediting body.  While the study identifies and analyzes factors leading to a more successful foreign language education program, it also reveals challenges and frustrations that teacher education programs inevitably have to face in the standards movement. The findings of the study provide insights into the multi facets of the current phenomenon of national accreditation of teacher education programs in the United States.
Teacher education, Collaboration, Higher Education, Educational Reform, National Accreditation, Language Teachers, Standards, Oral Language, Language Proficiency, Program Evaluation, Background to the Study.
In the current standards movement in the US, all institutions housing a School of Education are facing the challenges to be nationally recognized by addressing a set of standards by major national accrediting bodies such as NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teaching Education). The original NCATE Standards included the following themes: coherence, professional commitments, commitment to diversity, technology, and alignment with professional and state standards (Garber, 2002). In the year 2000 NCATE underwent a reform to include areas such as: continuous assessment of candidate proficiency, candidate education aligned with institutional, state, and professional expectations, and collaboration with PK-12 with arts and science faculty (Garber, 2002). The new standards include candidate knowledge, skills, assessment system and unit evaluation; field experiences; diversity; qualified faculty; and governance and resources (Garber 2000). While the rigorous NCATE Standards set high expectations for teacher education programs which presumably will lead to stronger teacher education programs in the US, the process of earning national recognition is a challenging one that requires collaboration and creativity from all sides of the university.
In the research area, a large body of studies exists that examine teacher education programs from the angle of NCATE. As early as 1969, long before today’s standards movement, study already exists on attitudes of institutions regarding the efforts of NCATE (Maul, 1969). In the past decade or so, more studies have been emerging as NCATE has become a national phenomenon for teacher education programs in the United States. In the existing literature, many studies provide a critique of the general NCATE Standards for the pros and cons, examining the strengths and weaknesses of the established national standards and explore the relations between national accreditation and the quality of programs (e.g., Newman & Hanauer, 2005; Warner, 1993; Parker, 1993; Draft, 2001; Vergari & Hess, 2002; Galluzzo, 1999; Johnson, Johnson, Farenga, & Ness, 2005; Tamir & Wilson, 2005). Many others provide guidelines for meeting the NCATE Standards or strategies to achieve recognition by NCATE based on document analysis (Garber, 2002; Trotter, 1990; Phillips, 2003) or actual successful stories of institutions being accredited by NCATE (Demetrulias & Others, 1993; Schmidt, 2008; McAlpine & Dhonau, 2007; Dove, Garten, Heinrichs, Hofmeister, Lamson, & Trumble, 1998). There are also studies focusing on analysis of specific content area teaching standards from NCATE perspective, such as Foreign Language Education (Fox & Diaz-Greenbert, 2006) Sport and Physical Education (Mitchell, 2006), Science Education (Collins, 1997), English Language Arts Education (Suhor, 1994), and Early Childhood Education (Seefeldt, 1988).
While empirical studies do exist to provide implications for the importance of certain factors such as student involvement, collaboration between a school of education and other departments on campus, and alignment between different sets of standards at different levels, (Schnidt, 2008; McAlpine, Dhonau, 2007; Dove, et al, 1998; etc) there is little known about specific efforts and struggles accompanying the accreditation process. An exploration focusing on the details of the process may contribute to a more in-depth understanding of the accreditation phenomenon.
A self-study is used to examine the struggle experienced at a medium sized comprehensive university in the US in an effort to address the requirement for national accreditation to strengthen its teacher education program. The attempt is the exploratio of critical accreditation issues related to intradepartmental collaboration, acquisition and assessment of content and pedagogical knowledge of teacher candidates, and the support or lack of support from the accrediting body. Key questions guiding the analysis include: 1) What are the gains as a result of the National Accreditation Process? 2) What are the challenges as a result of the National Accreditation Process? An investigation into these questions may provide insights into the multi facets of the current phenomenon of national accreditation of teacher education programs in the United States.
Methods and Data Analysis
The primary focus of the study is qualitative: exploratory; ethnographic; longitudinal; process oriented; and self reflective. The case study is with the Foreign Language Education Program from 1997 to present in a medium sized comprehensive university on the east coast of the United States. The Foreign Language Studies Department immediately took steps, with the support of the Deans and Provost, to collaborate with the ED Department by revising courses, implementing programs, and educating faculty in order to meet the National and Professional Standards. The reaction of the FL department seams to reflect the broader position of FL educators within the profession to participate in order to avoid further marginalization in schools (Phillips, 2003). Also insightful is the collaboration between NCATE and ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) which produced the Program Standards for the Preparation of Foreign Language Teachers, 2002 that became the standards for programs requesting accreditation for FL teacher education candidates. The standards expanded from simple “communication” to content areas as well and a logo of interlocking circles for the five C’s (Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities) was adapted not only for the K-12 programs for which it was intended, but K-16 as well (Phillips, 2003). Part of NCATE 2002 requires the shared responsibility between the departments of Education and subject departments. Foreign Language now needed to provide evidence of the language proficiency of teacher candidates at the Advanced Low minimum on the ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interview Scale. The FL Department became crucial in creating the data evidence for subject matter competency to meet the standards, especially Standard 1: Language, Linguistics, Comparisons; and Standard 2: Cultures, Literatures, and Cross-Disciplinary Concepts. The coordinator from the Department of Ed and the Linguistics/Methods Professor from FL convened and created syllabi and project rubrics for the Foreign Language Linguistics and Teaching Methods courses that address the NCATE/ACTFL standards. Data sources include minutes of faculty meetings; records of conversations among faculty members, between faculty and students, between departments; between institution program coordinator and the NCATE representative; participant observations; graded students’ projects as core NCATE assessments; NCATE SPA report, and the ACTFL Report. The Data analysis is primarily phenomenological in nature, this study drew on ethnographic approaches as it attempted to describe, identify, and ascribe meaning to the collective and individual experiences of the participants and its emerging culture (Moustakas, 1994; Cresswell, 1998; Thomas, 1993) in the context of National Accreditation. Grounded theory informed the design that relied on capturing emergent themes and allowing for their growth and on-going validation (Strauss, 1998). As the researchers were participant observers, the study also benefited from the increased validity characteristic of participatory research (Freire, 1972; Fals-Borda, 1980). Periodic informal and formal discussions among and between researchers and students served as an inductive base from which to identify characteristics of the accreditation process. Themes as results of self reflections were identified through discussions as well as deepened and expanded through document analysis.
Research supports that school reform depends on the nation’s teacher education by providing schools with better prepared educators that can convey knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for a global society (Parker, 1993). McAlpine and Dhonau support the gains for program recognition by NCATE and ACTFL by offering the following six considerations to foreign language and pedagogy faculty: engaging all faculty in the program review process; establishing a culture of oral proficiency; educating faculty on standards; revising curricula; preparing the assessments required y ACTFL/NCATE; and making use of technology for data collection (2007). This reform, however, does not come without challenges and frustrations, and although much of the research has focused on the gains and the procedure to achieve them, little has been published about the challenges this process creates. In this study, the experienced challenges in the National Accreditation process are the following: 1) Institutional Challenge, 2) Technical Challenge 3) Challenge from a lack of human resources, 4) Challenge from the accrediting body.
1)The institutional challenge resulted from the departmentalized mentality among the faculty: pedagogy is the responsibility of the School of Education; content knowledge in the major is the responsibility of the content major department. However, NCATE requires an inclusive perspective for the acquisition and assessment of both content and pedagogical knowledge and skills. This requires sincere collaboration between the SOE and other departments on campus. The collaboration is multi faceted with various challenges: faculty’s lack of knowledge of requirement for national accreditation; lack of an understanding of the negative consequence of not being nationally recognized; time constraint; financial constraint; lack of cross campus communication; etc. A Successful Case was the Collaboration from Department of Foreign Languages Studies. To address the NCATE requirement such as OPI: after receiving the SPA report review that failed our program, the ED department started communication with the FL department which responded to the program weaknesses immediately: In order to further strengthen candidates’ oral skills and help them meet the OPI Advanced Low requirement prior to Student Teaching, the Foreign Language Studies Department implemented an oral lab requirement for all Spanish major candidates and practice sessions with professor trained in OPI testing at ACTFL OPI Tester Training Workshop. In additions, students are strongly encouraged to participate in a structured study abroad program directed by one of the FL faculty and offered every summer in Spain. The FL department intends to offer programs in Mexico or Argentina in the near future, to further provide opportunity for enhancement of oral communication skills and the opportunity to acquire experience for the teaching of culture in order to fulfill the Culture Standard. Research shows that world language teachers face specific challenges in the teaching of culture (Fox, Diaz-Greenburg, 2006). Culture understanding and communication skills are increasingly important in an ever growing global society. Language teachers must be better prepared than ever to face the challenge and foster global understanding. Ideally, students take the OPI upon return from the study abroad program, however all candidates are required to take the official OPI at least one semester prior to Student Teaching, so if necessary they may retake the test before student teaching and receive further departmental support including more lab work, Study Abroad, and practice OPI with a trained professor. With all these measures in place, if a candidate still cannot pass the OPI, the candidate will not be allowed to student teach and will be counseled out of FL teaching to ensure the quality of the program (From MU ACTFL SPA Report 2006). NCATE requires 6 to 8 assessments with one being content based. In this case, a project on linguistic analysis is designed and implemented in a course offered by the FL department.
Since FL also offers a methods course and the program requires two methods courses that cover both theories and practices, the two professors designed the syllabi for both courses together. Both courses take the responsibility of implementing certain NCATE SPA assessments. The Education Department and the Foreign Language Studies Department coordinate the following tasks:
2) Technical Challenge. The institution submitted 7 program reports from one single department all at once and it was very confusing process. The first ACTFL report got to the ACTFL/NCATE office for review. It turned out that NCSS standards (Social Studies) are coded to the ACTFL assessments and NCSS report has some ACTFL standards showing up. No one could figure out what happened. Both program reports failed.
3) Challenge from lack of human resources. The NCATE coordinator must multi tasks and work as the central point for all reports and compilation of data tables. There is no course reduction for wor king on the NCATE reports and individual professors working as both full time professors and program coordinators are responsible for designing assessments and writing the reports.
4) Challenge from the accrediting body. Case: Foreign Language Education Program: While the NCATE website does provide some good examples of the successful SPA reports, person to person communication is difficult. In addition, there is also a lack of clear communication about how to improve: the first report failed 100%. After revision, it still failed 100% though the review report states that the program has been fully revised to be aligned with the ACTFL standards. The coordinator had a phone conversation with an ACTFL representative asking for clear direction for the next step: If this and that are done, would that be ok. Answer: It seems like that’s what is needed to be done, but there is no guarantee of anything. When being asked if advice can be provided on a portion of the revision, answer: we cannot do this on the phone. The unpredictability and uncertainty of this part of the process were very frustrating.
One of the major challenges in the accreditation process is the lack of collaboration across the campus. FL is a special case and remains the only department on campus that implements NCATE assessments outside the School of Education. There are still departments that show “sympathy” to the SOE and feel “lucky” that they don’t need to do what we are doing. Following the lack of collaboration is the inconsistency between different Specialized Professional Associations (SPAs). For the SPA reports for three programs written by the same faculty using the same format and presenting the same kind of data:
Yet another challenge to overcome is the inconsistency between certain mandated assessments and candidates’ performance as practitioners: on the one hand there are those who passed praxis and OPI but failed the student teaching; on the other those who failed praxis but presented self as an excellent teacher in student teaching.
The National Accreditation process is a tiring and energy consuming procedure with pros and cons. At the national/political level, research suggests changes for improving and strengthening the association and its power in the teacher education field. Although the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) is an authority within NCATE, it does not require NCATE accreditation for its member institutions (Emans & Hadley, 1986). In addition, NCATE accredited institutions do not require graduation from NCATE accredited undergraduate programs as an admission prerequisite to graduate programs (Emans & Hadley, 1986). Some research points to NCATE as self promoting and reaching out to accredit for-profit organizations with little convincing research that NCATE accreditation makes a difference in teacher education programs (Johnson, Johnson, Farenga, & Ness, 2005). Technologically, the NCATE electronic submission format poses a significant challenge to teacher educators charged with compiling extensive program reports (Mitchell, 2006). Criticism has been made, and individually noted in this study, that countless hours are devoted by teacher educators to NCATE demands that could be spent on students and research (Johnson, Johnson, Farenga, & Ness, 2005). On the other hand, the rewarding results of participating in NCATE accreditation include strengthened programs and highly praised teacher candidates. The cooperation and collaboration of the Foreign Language Studies Department with the School of Education has already shown outstanding results. Education students of Spanish were given state-wide recognition for excellence in student teaching this year and all Education/Spanish majors have passed the OPI at the advanced low score or above in 2007-2008. Although the pathway to National Accreditation is full of challenges and frustration, the success of its implementation as seen with the case study of the Foreign Language Studies Department proves that the process can only succeed with the full collaboration of each individual department and the School of Education. With an anticipated change in ideologies and attitude, albeit a slow one, cooperation with the coordinator, and perseverance and patience with the professional associations, success in achieving accreditation and subsequent strengthening of all teacher programs will unquestionably follow.
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