The University of Alaska Anchorage publicly released a trove of documents Friday that traces the process leading up to the recent accreditation loss for its teacher preparation programs.
The documents reveal that the national accrediting body had raised significant concerns about the programs early on in the process, in a 2017 report. Many of the concerns centered around a lack of data provided by UAA’s then-College of Education to prove its programs met the accreditation standards, such as evidence showing the teachers it graduated were effective in their classrooms.
There were also concerns in that report that too many of the programs didn’t have program-specific national accreditation — another layer of approval by a third-party, and another piece of evidence to show program quality.
“I don’t think anyone would suggest it’s glowing in any way,” Steve Atwater, executive dean of the Alaska College of Education at the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau, said about the 2017 report, likened to a draft report card.
But those at UAA working on accreditation still thought the programs would get two-year probationary approval, according to Claudia Dybdahl, interim director of UAA’s now-School of Education. They had months to present more evidence and believed they’d made sufficient progress to either meet the standards or prove they were well on their way to doing so, she said.
“That confidence ended up being misplaced,” she said.
Both Atwater and Dybdahl spoke about the reports in a recent interview, but neither were in their current roles when the accreditation process started.
Accreditation loss blindsides students
On Jan. 11, the news came that the accreditation for UAA’s seven teacher preparation programs had been revoked. At the time, Dybdahl said the accrediting body’s decision was a surprise.
The programs only met one of five accreditation standards — a possibility established in the December 2017 report, though it doesn’t appear that report was widely shared at the time.
The loss of accreditation blindsided UAA’s hundreds of aspiring teachers and cast an unflattering light on the university. It also called into question the viability of the programs that prepare students to get their first teaching licenses. Without accreditation, graduates’ path to licensure becomes much less certain, and they need a license from the state to teach in Alaska’s public schools.
It’s still unknown whether the UAA education school — the state’s largest preparer of teachers for Alaska’s public K-12 schools — will reapply for accreditation. If it does, it would take at least three years for the programs to regain approval.
It’s also unknown how the loss of accreditation could affect the state’s K-12 schools: Already, more than half of Alaska’s new teachers come from out of state.
Accreditation documents released
So how did UAA’s education school get here?
The documents that UAA posted online Friday provide some answers. (The Daily News had asked for key documents shortly after the loss of accreditation was announced in January, and they were among those released this week.)
They make it clear the accreditation situation never looked rosy and provide a look at the turnover in leadership that plagued UAA’s education college.
Between June 2011 and now, the education college has had five different deans, interim deans or interim directors. A search is currently underway for a permanent director to replace Dybdahl. The education college also became a “School of Education” in 2018.
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UAA has had three different chancellors between when the accreditation process started and when it got denied.
There were issues with both leadership and communication during the accreditation process, according to Jim Johnsen, president of the University of Alaska system.
“Those are the fundamental failures in this matter,” he said in an interview Friday. “That’s one of the reasons there’s new leadership top to bottom.”
Johnsen said he wasn’t given the reports that led up to the decision to revoke the teacher preparation programs’ accreditation until recently.
If the UA system — which encompasses UAA, UAS and the University of Alaska Fairbanks — was alerted of the 2017 report at the time, Johnsen said, it could have taken steps to remedy at least some of the problems flagged by the accrediting body.
“If I had seen it then, my reaction would have been, ‘Holy cow. We better get on this right now.’ And I don’t think — well in fact I know — that’s not what happened,” Johnsen said.
Johnsen described the education college’s February 2018 written response to the accrediting body as “stunning.”
“It was stunning to me in terms of its lack of professionalism and a constructive approach to dealing with the issues," he said. “So obviously a red flag should have been raised and I should have been made aware of this, I would have made the Board (of Regents) aware of this.”
Paul Deputy, who was acting as the interim dean of UAA’s education college at the time the accreditation process started, could not immediately be reached on Friday.
Not all states require national accreditation for their teacher preparation programs, but Alaska does. The national accrediting body is the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation, or CAEP.
The CAEP accreditation process is designed in a way to allow education programs ample time and opportunity to show evidence that they’re meeting the standards, according to Christopher Koch, CAEP president.
“There’s multiple opportunities, multiple occurrences in the process where they can respond to deficiencies,” he said on Friday.
Programs can provide evidence that they’re meeting standards until the last day of CAEP representatives’ site visit. For UAA, that was May 1, 2018.
After that, UAA’s education college got another report from CAEP, this one about the site visit. That report also detailed numerous concerns. Johnsen said he was first given that report within the last week.
Johnsen said people familiar with the accreditation process told him recently that the site-visit report should have been “a huge red flag” that “something was very wrong.”
Dybdahl, who started in the interim director job at UAA weeks before the site visit, said her main take away from the site-visit report was: “We had work to do.”
Still, the belief persisted, she said, that the programs would earn a two-year probationary accreditation — generally given to programs that fail to meet one of five standards.
“I was still relatively new. People were still very confident that we were going to come in at a two-year,” Dybdahl said. “For me, as a leader and I suppose somewhat related also to personality, I saw, ‘OK, we’ve got work to do, let’s get going.’ And my focus was on moving us forward.”
She implemented a list of changes to move toward meeting the CAEP standards, she said.
‘We’re very sorry that we’re here’
UAA announced on Jan. 11 that CAEP had revoked accreditation.
CAEP noted 11 stipulations, or deficiencies, among the programs in its report. Some of them boiled down to UAA not providing sufficient evidence to show its teacher preparation programs were effective. In some cases, the accrediting body required multiple years of data or consistent data across programs and UAA didn’t have that.
“If you can’t show the evidence for your effectiveness, then you’ve got a very serious problem. I think that theme is the powerful thread through all five of those standards, and that says a lot of things about the programs,” Johnsen said.
“They may have been good programs, but if you can’t demonstrate with evidence — if a university can’t demonstrate with evidence the effectiveness of their programs, that’s a big problem," he said.
In its reports, the UAA education college made the case that faculty were evaluating students and program effectiveness at the individual program level. But the teacher preparation programs were not operating as a unit at that time.
Now, Dybdahl said, they are.
The UA Board of Regents will ultimately decide whether the UAA education school will seek re-accreditation for its teacher preparation programs.
At this time, UAA isn’t processing admissions into the affected teacher preparation programs until it knows more about the programs’ future, according to a UAA spokeswoman.
The university has estimated roughly 330 students are enrolled in the programs.
Approximately 40 students are expected to graduate from those programs this spring and summer. The Alaska State Board of Education and Early Development recently granted an exception for those students: Despite the loss of accreditation, they will still be considered graduates from a “state-approved program.”
UAA is also helping those students who want to transfer to UAF or UAS.
The university is waiving transfer fees and refunding students for their costs of textbooks and parking permits, among other expenses. Those choosing to drop UAA classes can also get their tuition reimbursed, according to a UAA email to the affected students.
Dybdahl said the UAA education school will continue working toward meeting CAEP standards.
In hindsight, she said, students should have been notified that the education school was engaged in the accreditation process.
Atwater said the accreditation loss is significant and is being taken seriously. He apologized to students.
“We’re very sorry that we’re here. I think that’s the message the university has conveyed over and over. The students are our primary — and always will be — our primary concern,” Atwater said.
Johnsen said, in the future, universities and their programs will have to present more information as they apply for accreditation, including whether there’s risk of that accreditation getting denied.
Here’s a closer look at how the accreditation process worked:
August 2017: UAA’s then-College of Education first submits an 81-page “self study report” to CAEP. It detailed all of the evidence it had to prove that its teacher preparation programs were meeting the CAEP standards, or were on their way to meeting them.
This was the first time UAA applied for accreditation under CAEP. The university’s programs were previously accredited under a different national oversight body, which merged with another organization to create CAEP. In 2013, CAEP put out new standards for accreditation, which are recognized to be much higher than the previous ones, and they’re also very different.
UAA’s teacher preparation programs were last accredited in 2010. That seven-year accreditation was extended a year and expired on Dec. 31, 2018.
December 2017: UAA’s College of Education receives a 31-page report from CAEP with feedback.
February 2018: UAA’s College of Education sends CAEP a 20-page “addendum” to its self-study report.
June 2018: UAA’s education school receives a 43-page report about the CAEP team’s visit to the university.
July 2018: Dybdahl sends a “rejoinder” to CAEP. She writes that she wants to correct “what appears to be a misperception” that the education school didn’t have the capacity to implement changes. She lists improvements implemented, including joining a network to ensure assessments meet national standards.
Jan. 11, 2019: UAA announces that its teacher preparation programs have lost accreditation. A report from CAEP says the programs did not meet four of the five standards.
Koch, CAEP president, said he couldn’t speak specifically to UAA, but, generally, missing four standards “is pretty serious.”
“It’s a pretty thorough process, and having missed a number of those standards is something that is serious,” Koch said.
Generally: To receive full, seven-year accreditation, programs must meet all five standards. If they fail to meet one standard, they can get probationary, two-year accreditation.
So far, 35 states and Washington, D.C., have agreements with CAEP, the accrediting body said. And so far, CAEP has accredited 196 schools, 14 under probationary terms and 23 with stipulations.
Aside from UAA’s teacher preparation programs, three other schools have had their programs’ accreditation revoked or denied: Indiana Institute of Technology, Alfred University of New York and West Texas A&M University, according to CAEP.
Jan. 25, 2019: UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen sends a letter to the CAEP president. Sandeen writes about the steps being taken to address deficiencies and prepare the programs to regain accreditation.