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Seeking National Accreditation for the School of Education: A Conversation with Sarah Ulrich

One of the roles of the Office of Assessment, Accreditation and Effectiveness is to support all accreditation efforts, be they programmatic or regional.  Currently there are 30+ different accrediting bodies that review and work with programs across the Drexel Campus. Institutions that seek accreditation can do so from a wide range of accrediting organizations -- from national bodies that are oriented to a particular type of institution, to regional organizations (MSCHE) that encompass a wide range of institution types, to specialized organizations that focus on a single discipline or profession such as the School of Education.  Drexel’s School of Education (SoE) is currently seeking accreditation at the National level from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  Recently we had a discussion with Sarah Ulrich, Associate Clinical Professor and the Director of Teacher Certification Programs for the School of Education to speak about this process. 

1. What is the accreditation history for the School of Education?

“The School of Education is an approved Program Provider for nearly twenty different certifications, certificates and endorsements in the state of Pennsylvania. As an approved Program Provider, the SoE is required to participate in periodic program reviews, site visits and complete an Annual Report for the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE), as well as complete (annually) Title II reporting for the U.S. Department of Education. This will be the SoE’s first experience pursuing accreditation on a national level. The national accrediting body for colleges and schools of education is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).”

2. Why is CAEP accreditation important for the future of School of Education at Drexel?

“I think there are a number of reasons why CAEP accreditation is important to the School of Education, and why this is a particularly appropriate time for our school to embark on this endeavor. First, it is a prestigious “badge” a school or college can attain, which ultimately could have a positive influence on many things from branding to enrollments. Perhaps most importantly, having this accreditation speaks volumes about the emphasis a School of Education places on continuous assessment and continuous program improvement. I think that was what sold our faculty on this enormous commitment. In the end, it is a process that allows us to self-assess and consider ways we can constantly enrich our students’ experiences and better prepare our alumni for their professional fields.”

3. What led the School of Education to this decision?

”I think there have been a number of things, PAR (Program Alignment and Review) included. I believe the faculty, staff and administration in our school are highly focused on continuous program improvement. The School of Education is committed to having a culture of assessment within our programs, and among our faculty. We are constantly focused on how we can identify impact points and the level of effectiveness in our programs. I think this is just taking our current culture to the next level, and it seemed like a natural next step.”

“As far as timing, there are two things that came in to play as we were considering pursuing CAEP at this particular time. (It is important to note that we have been having informal conversations around the idea of national accreditation for a number of years.) First, the School of Education has been in a strategic planning process for nearly a year now. I think it was important for us to revisit our mission and vision and identify, and new strategic goals for the school. We had to ensure that CAEP “fit” into those strategic goals, and we overwhelmingly believe that it does. Second, the U.S. Department of Education has proposed new federal guidelines for all Colleges and Schools of Education, requiring more data collection on the effectiveness of the program providers than ever before. Having completed the CAEP accreditation process, we will be even better positioned to meet new federal mandates than ever before.”

4. How long will the process take?

The process can take as many as five years, but we have constructed a timeline to complete in 3.5-4 years.

5. What is your college doing to prepare for the application for accreditation?

“There are several things. We have formed a CAEP Steering Committee, and for the last six months we have been” educating” ourselves on the CAEP process, as it is no small undertaking. We have also been doing a great deal of critical “self-assessment” at the program level. We need to reflect on program effectiveness. How do we know our programs are effective? How do we know our students are prepared for their professional fields – and what evidence do we have that they are sufficiently prepared, and will be competitive in their field? Much of the work has been with individual program directors.  Our Dean has committed to this process, by creating a new position to lead this charge, Director of Assessment and Accreditation. This search is underway. We have also been focused on identifying the appropriate vendor to provide the data management and analysis resources necessary to undertake such a process. The Office of Assessment, Accreditation & Effectiveness has been hugely supportive of our planning efforts, meeting with us monthly as we construct a timeline and plan for implementation.’

6. Who has been and will be involved with the effort to seek accreditation from CAEP?

“Faculty, staff, leadership, students have all been involved with the process.  Currently, the Steering Committee has been working with the administration, Program Directors and the Office of Assessment, Accreditation & Effectiveness. While the greater faculty and staff have received monthly updates, they are not involved in the implementation efforts yet. We will look to the new Director of Assessment and Accreditation for leadership and the mobilization of key personnel to play critical roles in this endeavor. As the entire School of Education is pursuing accreditation, and not just one individual program, it truly will be a joint effort for all members of the SoE community to engage in this process. “

7. How has the response from the staff and faculty to this process?

“Honestly, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. This might sound strange, or even fabricated to some. However, the School of Education has always had this culture of formative and summative on-going assessment. This simply seemed like the right move at the right time. “

A lot of work has already been done to organize and plan for this effort, but there is still a long way to go.  The Office of Assessment, Accreditation and Effectiveness will continue to support in any way needed.  The School of Education has the leadership and the support to accomplish this goal within the timeframe that has been set.