Telling Your Story through a Self-Study Report

Self-Study Report SSE

Educator preparation providers (EPPs) seeking programmatic accreditation through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) must build a case for how their programs comply with specific standards. This is done through a combination of written narratives and supporting pieces of evidence. In most cases, these evidence artifacts are anchored by key assessment data, meeting minutes, examples of acting on input from stakeholders, continuous program improvement initiatives, and the like. All the narrative responses and pieces of evidence are assembled into a Self-Study Report (SSR).

Writing the Self-Study Report: A Daunting Process

Writing the self-study report can feel daunting and at times, overwhelming. EPPs must be able to communicate clearly and concisely how they comply with all aspects of each standard. Writers must be able to think and write from both a macro perspective (making connections across programs) as well as a micro perspective (focusing on specific aspects of each program).

Some faculty members equivocate writing the SSR to the stress they recall when writing their doctoral dissertation. Others think of it as trying to catch a tiger by its tail. Still others try not to think of it at all and fervently hope they won’t see their name listed as part of a CAEP writing team. Without question, this is a challenging process. However, it’s very doable and manageable, particularly if we start to look at the SSR a little differently.

The Role of Testing

No matter what state or specific licensure program is involved, EPPs must assess their teacher candidates multiple times throughout their program. When we test our candidates, we are able to get a glimpse of what they know and are able to do against a specific set of criteria at the particular moment in time. However, we know that no single assessment can provide us with the kind of information we need to make judgments about the quality of our programs. In order to accomplish this, we must administer a suite of high-quality assessments throughout the program. Based on our review of those test results, we can start to gain insight about specific trends, patterns, strengths, and weaknesses.

If we look at these data separately, they just don’t tell us that much. It’s when we put them all together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that we start to build a portrait of each program and eventually, we can draw conclusions about the EPP as a whole.

Seeing the Self-Study Report as a Portfolio

In their article focusing on student digital portfolios, co-authors Ronnie Burt and Kathleen Morris quoted international researcher and consultant Dr. Helen Barrett:

“Testing gives you a snapshot. Portfolios give you a movie.”

This is so true, and I think Barrett’s quote fits in very well within the context of Self-Study Reports for accreditation. When it’s fully assembled, the SSR can be used as a showcase for institutions to “put their best foot forward” and highlight their successes. However, the SSR is really like a portfolio that tracks progress over time. While not exactly the same, the two actually share a lot in common:

  1. Purpose: Both a self-study report and a portfolio are designed to demonstrate an individual or organization’s knowledge, skills, and abilities in a particular area. A self-study report aims to demonstrate how an institution meets the standards set by the accrediting body, while a portfolio showcases an individual’s achievements, skills, and experiences.
  2. Evidence: Both require the collection and presentation of evidence to support claims. In a self-study report, evidence may include data, surveys, and other documentation that demonstrates how an institution meets the accreditation standards. In a portfolio, evidence may include work samples, certificates, awards, and other materials that showcase an individual’s accomplishments.
  3. Organization: Both a self-study report and a portfolio require careful organization to present evidence effectively. An SSR written for CAEP, for example, follows a specific structure over five standards, while a portfolio may be organized according to the individual’s goals and accomplishments.
  4. Reflection: Both an SSR and a portfolio require reflection on the evidence presented. In a self-study report, reflection may involve analyzing data and identifying areas for improvement. In a portfolio, reflection may involve assessing strengths and weaknesses and identifying areas for growth.
  5. Evaluation: Both a self-study report and a portfolio require evaluation by others. CAEP site team reviewers evaluate an EPP’s compliance of components within the five standards, while a portfolio may be reviewed by an employer, a mentor, or a peer. In both cases, the evaluation provides feedback and helps the individual or organization improve their work.

As I’ve outlined above, a self-study report written for accreditation and creating a portfolio share similarities in their purpose, evidence collection, organization, reflection, and evaluation. Both require a thoughtful approach to presenting evidence and reflecting on accomplishments and areas for growth.

If we can start to view the self-study report a little differently and approach it more from a portfolio mindset, I think the stress level will start to diminish and the overall quality of narratives and pieces of evidence will begin to improve. Rather than submit a dry and often disjointed self-study report, we can produce a rich, substantive body of work that presents a powerful story about our programs.


About the Author: A former public school teacher and college administrator, Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher provides consultative support to colleges and universities in quality assurance, accreditation, educator preparation and competency-based education. Specialty: Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  She can be reached at:

Top Photo Credit:  Carlos Muza on Unsplash