Every seven years, CUA’s education professors brace themselves for an important visit from their peers.
Student performance is evaluated, data is gathered and reports are assembled in preparation for a weeklong assessment by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
Last fall the accreditation team came to CUA again, with the mission of determining if future teachers graduating from CUA will meet national standards and the approval of their fellow professionals.
Agnes Nagy-Rado, director of teacher education, was understandably pleased with the initial passing results, which will be followed by a more detailed evaluation in spring 2007.
| Agnes Nagy-Rado, director of teacher education, looks over the results of the|
Department of Education's recent accredition by the National Council for
Accreditation of Teacher Education.
“We are proud,” Nagy-Rado said. “It’s not a small deed.”
The education department’s accreditation is only one example of the work that is done at CUA to ensure that every student on campus is getting the best education possible. Many other schools and departments undergo specialized accreditation within their fields, and the university as a whole is accredited every 10 years.
“Institutional accreditation is important for the standing of the university in the field,” said John Convey, university provost. “The university has to be accredited to make its degrees legitimate. We would not accept transfer credits from an unaccredited institution.”
The university as a whole undergoes institutional accreditation each decade by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, a regional agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This ensures that CUA students are eligible for federal financial aid.
CUA will be scheduled to be reaccredited in 2010. Convey said the university will begin preparing next year.
Accreditation is particularly important for professional schools and departments — those preparing students for a particular career — because of the requirements in the fields students will eventually be working in.
“To be licensed as a clinical psychologist, you need to come from an American Psychological Association-accredited program,” Convey explained.
Schools and departments at CUA that have been awarded specialized accreditations include: architecture and planning, clinical psychology, education, engineering, law, library and information science, music, nursing, social work and theology. (The entire School of Theology and Religious Studies does not undergo accreditation — only programs in ministry are evaluated.)
“It keeps program standards high and provides justification and oversight for the licensing of the students,” Convey said.
The School of Nursing currently is waiting for the results of its accreditation by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Preparing for accreditation can be a lengthy and demanding process. It took three years for the Department of Education to create a new infrastructure of data and supporting documents to inform visiting members of the accreditation team, who came to inspect CUA’s “teacher education unit.” The unit is composed of the Department of Education, Benjamin T. Rome School of Music and the School of Library and Information Science. The schools of music and library science are included because of the number of students from those programs who become music teachers and school librarians.
“One way we ensure [our students] are better teachers is by going through this rigorous process that ensures that the program is structured in a way that prepares teachers better in coursework and field experience,” Nagy-Rado said.
In 2000 NCATE altered its accreditation process to focus not only on what professors were teaching, but also on what their students (also called candidates) were learning.
“Just because we teach something doesn’t mean the candidates learn what we are teaching them,” Nagy-Rado said.
But in order to evaluate this, the department had to create a new system for assessing the performance of candidates. It is not as simple as just tracking grades. Each candidate is evaluated to ensure that not only do they understand the material they wish to teach but also posses the pedagogical skill necessary to be able to convey the subject matter to others, i.e. students.
“Think about doctors who know in theory what to do during surgery, but may not be able to perform the task,” Nagy-Rado said. “This is why it’s important for us to move away from relying solely on grades and focus on evaluating our candidates’ ability to plan and implement lessons, use effective instructional strategies and assess student learning.”
Besides being tested, candidates now must complete tutoring journals, lesson plans and electronic portfolios that their professors and advisers have access to.
Candidates must also have a certain disposition: they must be professional and care about their students and teaching. Their dispositions are evaluated through surveys that faculty and the candidates themselves complete.
Candidates are assessed under these criteria before they are accepted to CUA, during their studies here and once they are in the workforce after they graduate. If a candidate’s performance becomes a concern during their time at CUA, they are put on probation and advisers might discuss alternative majors with them if they believe they are not meant to be an educator.
With 15 to 25 students in every undergraduate class, it was quite the task to collect all the data needed and prepare for the accreditation process. But now that the infrastructure is in place, Nagy-Rado says, “We’re totally ready to continue meeting accreditation guidelines.”