According to the most current COVID-19 information we have, there are now almost 4 million college students in the United States whose institutions have either transitioned quickly to an online learning environment or have shut their doors entirely for several weeks. While definitely a challenging undertaking, it’s doable. Most students will be able to weave their way through the bumps in the road to successfully complete the spring semester. However, Colleges of Education faculty grapple with how to maintain quality assurance during the COVID-19 crisis. The nation’s only accrediting body recognized by the US Department of Education is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). A major aspect of CAEP’s expectations is data collection.
CAEP Data Collection: Continuous Program Improvement
CAEP requires continuous program improvement based on ongoing data review and analysis. Institutions must look for patterns and trends over time in order to identify specific strengths and weaknesses within each teacher licensure program. Once gaps are determined, action must be taken to shore up those weaknesses.
Continuous program improvement is dependent upon reliable data that have been harvested from valid assessments. That’s why educator preparation providers (EPPs) must select key assessments for each licensure program. They must then gather, review, and analyze data from those assessments per an established cadence or periodicity.
CAEP’s Three Data Cycles
CAEP requires three cycles of data for analysis in preparation for an accreditation site visit. While CAEP leaves it up to each EPP to define, institutions often count one academic year as representing one cycle of data. Other institutions count a cycle as one semester. A few institutions have “rolling registrations” meaning they enroll new candidates each month. Those institutions sometimes define a cycle as being the equivalent of 8 weeks or perhaps a six-month term. Regardless, institutions must collect data regardless of circumstance–and that includes exceptional circumstances such as COVID-19.
The Dilemma COE Faculty Face with CAEP Data Collection
College of Education faculty and administrators are grappling with how to continue collecting the kind of data they need for CAEP’s continuous program improvement model. For example, what happens when local P-12 school districts close, and teacher candidates are unable to complete their required observations or early field experience requirements? Even worse, what if candidates are unable to complete their student teaching? In addition to completing required observations, reflections and lesson plan designs, what will happen if teacher candidates are unable to complete video clips of them teaching a lesson? These are all very real concerns, and faculty must come together to address them. But what are best practices in situations like this, and what should be avoided?
Knee-Jerk Reaction #1: This is Beyond Our Control, So We’re Off the Hook
A very common reaction to situations like COVID-19 is to give in to the circumstance and throw our hands up:
This is beyond our control, so we’re going to do nothing. Surely CAEP will understand and give us a pass. Wrong. So very wrong.
While your challenges are difficult and frustrating, keep in mind that all other Colleges of Education are experiencing the same thing. While that should bring some level of comfort, it does not come with a “free pass” from CAEP. This accreditor cannot (and should not) lower expectations, even in times like these. Why? Because like all difficult situations, this too shall pass--and those teacher candidates will eventually complete their programs and graduate. They will land their first teaching job where they will embark upon a career of shaping young lives. Will watering down teacher requirements be fair to those young students?
Knee-Jerk Reaction #2: Just Collect Some Data–ANY Data
Some faculty will be tempted to act out of desperation to just “collect some data” for the purpose of checking a box to say they have completed their CAEP data collection requirements. It may not be useful for monitoring the quality of programs or making improvements, but it’s collected anyway just so they can have something to report for this cycle.
For example, if the local P-12 schools are shut down and candidates are unable to teach a required lesson, some faculty may go so far as to allow candidates to “teach” the lesson to their pets, or to a cooperative audience of stuffed animals. Candidates would then view their video and write a reflection of their “teaching”. Think I’m kidding? Think again.
To have candidates quickly throw together a video or complete an exercise just for the sake of checking off a box doesn’t make sense. What possible insight can candidates glean about the experience? Moreover, what insight could faculty members surmise about the strength of their program using such practices?
A Reasoned Approach to CAEP Data Collection & COVID-19
As experienced, highly trained educator preparation providers, we know the futility in making knee-jerk reactions, and we know CAEP will maintain high expectations. But, what’s the best approach to take? The logistics will vary from institution to institution, but here’s a rule of thumb that applies across the board:
Any effort to collect data that doesn’t result in something useful is a wasted effort.
We must always return to the purpose of our policies, procedures, and practices: Why are we doing this? What’s the intended end result? If the purpose is to identify strengths and weaknesses, look for patterns & trends, and make continuous program improvements, then we must make sure those policies, procedures, and practices will help us to achieve those goals.
In challenging times, COE faculty should put their professional hats on and look at this as an opportunity for creative problem solving. They should consider other data collection methods that would yield reliable results.
Who knows? They may be able to come up with some CAEP data collection methods that they hadn’t even thought of before. Those methods that may be far better than the ones they are using now. However, they won’t know unless they are willing to solve this problem together, as experienced, highly competent professional educators.
About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now a freelance writer and educational consultant.
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