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How did UAA’s teacher preparation programs lose accreditation? And what’s next?

The UAA School of Education has lost accreditation for its initial licensure programs. The Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation (CAEP) notified the university last Friday that its accreditation of these programs had not been renewed. (Bill Roth/ ADN)

News that the University of Alaska Anchorage School of Education had lost its accreditation upset students and cast doubt on the future of the school, which prepared more new teachers in Alaska last budget year than any other institution.

It also raised some big questions about how it happened, who is at fault and what it means for students.

Here we attempt to answer some of those questions.

Why didn’t UAA get CAEP accreditation?

To get accreditation, UAA’s teaching degree programs had to meet five standards from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation — watch out, acronyms ahead — or CAEP. If a program fails to meet one of the five standards, it’s placed on probation for two years.

UAA’s teaching programs up for re-accreditation met only one of the five standards, according to the “accreditation action report" from CAEP.

The CAEP standards are shrouded in education jargon, but they basically measure the quality of curriculum and student teaching experience. Schools must also have a high-quality student admissions pool that is academically accomplished and diverse. Importantly, the school has to show that teachers who graduate the program are effective in their classrooms. And CAEP requires data to prove all of it.

So, which UAA programs lost their accreditation?

All of the education school’s “initial licensure programs,” meaning bachelor’s and master’s degree programs for people working toward their initial teaching certification.

Which standards didn’t those programs meet?

All but “clinical partnerships and practice.” But even though UAA technically met that standard, CAEP still flagged two areas for improvement within it.

The three-page CAEP report details why the programs didn’t meet the other four standards. It’s complicated. The report is flush with acronyms and jargon.

[Here’s the CAEP accreditation report and letter.]

In the report, CAEP called attention to UAA’s lack of clear or sufficient evidence to show how it met some standards. It also said a “lack of program design” to certain standards prohibited the university’s “ability to develop candidates’ understanding of professional concepts and principles of the education profession.”

According to an online Q&A posted by UAA Wednesday, the accrediting body didn’t flag “any deficiencies in the quality of faculty or student experiences, but focused primarily on the quality of management and reporting of evidential data.”

Students stand outside a classroom on Monday to hear University of Alaska Anchorage Chancellor Cathy Sandeen and UAA School of Education interim director Claudia Dybdahl speak about the School of Education's loss of accreditation for its initial licensure programs. (Bill Roth/ ADN)

So, what happens if you don’t have CAEP accreditation?

State regulations require teacher preparation programs have national accreditation or “substantially meet” the national standards, said Sondra Meredith, administrator for teacher education and certification at the state education department.

UAA is trying to work out a deal with the Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development to allow UAA graduates to be “recommended” for licenses even though the programs no longer have accreditation (and might not have it for years).

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State education commissioner Michael Johnson said Tuesday night that all 2019 UAA graduates from spring and summer would be recommended for an Alaska teaching license despite the lack of accreditation. But it’s unclear what will happen for other students set to graduate later. The state education board will decide whether those students can also be recommend for licensure when they graduate.

Once graduates get their Alaska teaching license, that license should be recognized in other states, Meredith said. That’s because nearly all states, including Alaska, are part of an agreement that basically says: “We will recognize your state-approved programs if you recognize our state-approved programs,” Meredith said.

But other issues could come up — such as if a student wanted to apply for a master’s degree program. Students have also said they fear in competitive job markets their degree, suddenly from an unaccredited program, will hurt their hiring prospects.

It’s important to note that UAA is an accredited university, and UAA is the one issuing the diplomas, said Steve Atwater, executive dean of the new Alaska College of Education, based at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau.

“Students are really concerned that this is going to haunt them,” Atwater said. “I don’t think it will.”

Wait. What is CAEP anyway?

Universities pursue accreditation to have a neutral, third-party body certify that what they’re offering is credible. In some cases, accreditation is required: The State of Alaska said graduates receiving teaching licenses have to come from programs accredited by a national education specialty accreditation organization.

That’s CAEP. It was founded in 2013 out of a merger between two different previous accreditation groups. People think it’s pretty tough: CAEP’s standards for accreditation are recognized to be much higher than the previous ones.

So far, thirty-five states have agreements with CAEP. And so far, CAEP has accredited 196 schools, 14 under probationary terms and 23 with stipulations.

Four schools, including UAA, have had their accreditation revoked or denied. The other schools revoked or denied are Indiana Institute of Technology, Alfred University of New York and West Texas A&M University, according to CAEP.

How does the accreditation process work?

First the university submits what’s called a “self-study." It gathers up all its evidence that it meets the standards. Then there’s a chance for feedback from CAEP in what’s called a “formative review” — at that point, UAA would have likely been told about the areas in which it was failing, according to other administrators familiar with the process.

After that comes a site visit, a high-stakes, two- to three-day visit where evaluators from CAEP take a look around and “review evidence, verify data, and examine pedagogical artifacts,” according to the accrediting body. (Pedagogical artifacts could include lesson plans and videos of student teachers at work.)

Then a council takes into consideration the self-study report plus the visit and renders a decision.

Who was in charge at UAA during the application process?

There’s been a lot of turnover at the top of the UAA education school in recent years: Since June 2011, it has had five different deans, interim deans or interim directors.

When the UAA accreditation process began in 2016, Paul Deputy was acting as interim dean. In March 2018, he was replaced by interim director Claudia Dybdahl. By that point UAA had already presented most of its materials to CAEP. Three or four weeks after Dybdahl started, CAEP officials had their site visit.

Between when UAA officials started the accreditation process and when it got denied, the university also had three different chancellors: Tom Case retired from the job in June 2017 and Sam Gingerich took over as interim chancellor. Then Cathy Sandeen became UAA chancellor this past September.

Some people have pointed to lack of consistent leadership — as well as cuts to faculty and staff — as one reason for the problems CAEP found.

“Budget cuts definitely have impacted what the unit can do,” Dybdahl said. “We have fewer faculty, fewer staff.” At some point, she said, the school of education lost its data management position.

While some people have suggested that the restructuring of the teacher education programs across the University of Alaska system impacted accreditation, UA President Jim Johnsen called that “an erroneous argument.”

“UAF, which is in the same boat as UAA, flew through its accreditation review with CAEP. So it’s not the structure that’s the issue,” Johnsen said.

Did other public universities in Alaska get CAEP accreditation?

UAF received the accreditation in November. UAS is in the process, hosting a site visit in November 2019.

Did UAA administrators think the school would get accreditation?

Yes, according to Dybdahl. Dybdahl said she imagined UAA officials wouldn’t have started the accreditation process if they thought the programs would get denied. While UAA didn’t meet each standard perfectly, the expectation was that it had done enough, Dybdahl said. She noted, however, that she wasn’t at UAA when the process started.

“People had to know that it didn’t 100 percent or perfectly meet standards, but that’s never the expectation,” Dybdahl said.

Administrators from other schools familiar with the process said UAA had to have known at the end of the site visit in April that they were in serious trouble, because there’s an exit interview component.

While UAA got some feedback from CAEP, Dybdahl said, she “never received anything that said: You are in danger of not being accredited.”

This is also the first time UAA sought accreditation through CAEP. Before, the programs were accredited through the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. That national accrediting body merged with another to create CAEP. The new accreditation standards were approved in 2013.

How long will UAA be without CAEP accreditation?

UAA can re-apply for accreditation one calendar year after the denial. So, the process can begin again on Jan. 11, 2020. It can take up to three years to complete the process and re-accredit the program, according to UAA.

And the students who aren’t graduating this year?

Don’t do anything just yet, administrators said: If the state "allows UAA to recommend licensure as it works toward re-accreditation, the impact will be minimal to students.”

UAA also said it is “committed to providing each student with options best suited to his or her situation” including transferring to other universities or programs.

What’s next?

Dybdahl said UAA is addressing the issues flagged by CAEP. It began that process immediately after the April site visit, she said.

UAA officials will ask the state Board of Education to allow the university to continue recommending candidates for licensure until it regains accreditation. The board is scheduled to meet Feb. 4 to review what lead up to CAEP’s decision and discuss what’s next.

The university said it has no plans to close its School of Education. It has suspended recruitment and enrollment into the affected programs, pending a decision from the state board.

Will students get their tuition money back or receive discounted tuition?

“We are evaluating all options to provide students with paths that enable them to successfully acquire a degree in education from UAA that enables licensure,” Dybdahl said.

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