The Senate Education Committee received an update Tuesday, February 5, on the status of the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) School of Education, which recently lost accreditation for its largest programs. 

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) notified UAA on January 11 that it was revoking accreditation for its Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education Bachelor of Arts initial licensure programs.

Initial certification programs affected also include Early Childhood Post-Baccalaureate, Elementary Post-Baccalaureate, and Master of Arts in Teaching.

UAA as a whole retains its accreditation.

“It’s hard enough to recruit people to move here and to retain them,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) said in a hearing.  “That requires a level of trust between those who are coming out of high school or those leaving former employment to come into teaching as older students, that requires trust that our system’s going to be there for them.  This is a trust that now needs to be repaired.”

“We are committed to addressing this failure and breach of trust,” University of Alaska (UA) President Jim Johnsen assured committee members.  “We’re doing all we can to rectify it.” 

Johnsen noted in a presentation that the Alaska State Board of Education requires the education programs at the three branches of UA to be accredited.

CAEP re-accreditation is on a seven year cycle, though this is the first time CAEP has assessed UAA.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) School of Education recently received re-accreditation, while the University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) College of Education is being evaluated now.

Loss of accreditation at UAA was based on a 2017 evaluation.  UAA failed to meet four of five CAEP standards, the most glaring of which is there was insufficient evidence that students averaged above the 50th percentile in national Praxis assessments.

“Frankly, a pretty fundamental failure here,” admitted Johnsen.

UAA maintains the failure to retain accreditation lies with the faculty, not the students.

Johnsen described CAEP’s emphasis on evidence.

“How are you demonstrating the use of data to continuously improve your outcomes?  That’s really the goal here.  It’s an evidence-based process with lots of validated statistical instruments for how data is collected, analyzed, and used,” he explained.

“The fundamental failure, I would say, of UAA was that we did not provide enough evidence,” UAA School of Education Interim Director Claudia Dybdahl testified.

Dybdahl, who came out of retirement to help the School of Education weather this storm, said CAEP requires data showing formal recruitment of students and progress through specific program transition points.

“We failed to provide evidence that those transition points were in place across programs,” she said.  “It was basically a lack of evidence.”

Instead of students failing the Praxis exam, UAA failed to provide data of student success in a manner acceptable to CAEP.

“I’d rather it be a problem with the data not being provided than the teachers not doing well on the test.  So that is actually a relief to me,” said Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer).

“Why didn’t we appeal, then, if indeed the issue was that we didn’t provide enough evidence?” asked Begich

Dybdahl told Begich that UAA could not have provided additional evidence supporting the appeal.  She believes that meeting CAEP’s standards will make the School of Education a stronger program, and an appeal would take another six months.

“That, to me, was lost time,” she said.

UA President Johnsen Says Losing Program Accreditation “Uncommon”

CAEP conducted a three-day site visit in April of last year.  In June, it provided a site report to UAA.

State Board of Education Chair James Fields said he first started informally hearing about issues with the program in June or July.

“It didn’t look good,” he said, but it was too late to do anything about it.

CAEP review occurred during a time of administrative upheaval at UAA, as reported by The Northern Light.  Paul Deputy was serving as interim dean of education prior to the site visit.

“Even though interim feedback was negative, UAA administration and faculty worked hard to respond to deficiencies identified by CAEP.  In retrospect, the former leadership of UAA and the UAA School of Education should have worked closely with our sister universities and the system to address the issues raised by CAEP’s interim feedback, and should have brought students into that conversation,” the School of Education acknowledged in a FAQ.

Despite that negative interim feedback, Johnsen told the committee the revocation “did catch me by surprise.  I did understand that it wasn’t a slam dunk, but I was under the impression that we would likely succeed.  But, again, there were issues that were raised.  I was not specifically aware of specific problems.”

Johnsen said that this is the first required re-accreditation process that a UA program has failed.

“This is uncommon,” he said.

Johnsen seemed to agree with the decision not to appeal.

“From what I can see…  when you get a 20 out of 100, that’s a really serious problem,” he said.

That disappointed Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello (R-Anchorage), who asked if Johnsen agrees with CAEP.

“I believe them,” Johnsen replied.  “Whether I agree with it or not, I accept it and every single criticism that’s in it.  I’m committed to addressing the criticisms and the shortcomings identified in the report.”

“In the private sector, if something such as this would happen, we’d probably be hearing about people being held accountable and being fired and new people coming in,” Hughes noted.  “Do we have the same people who caused the problem working on it, or are you bringing in new people?”

Johnsen carefully responded that the UAA provost, chancellor, and the interim director of the School of Education are all new.

Dybdahl was hired in March to begin implementation of necessary changes identified during the CAEP review.  She has also begun data collection to support potential re-accreditation. 

An assessment created by Stanford University will be fully in place for the upcoming Fall semester.  UAA will be ready to reapply for accreditation in January of 2020, the earliest date possible.

From then, it would be at least another two years to complete CAEP review.

“This takes a lot of time,” Johnsen said.

Sen. Chris Birch (R-Anchorage) asked if the university has a system that recognizes red flags for program accreditation.

“We do now,” Johnsen replied emphatically.

Since there is a constantly rotating list of programs seeking re-accreditation, Johnsen said the list will be updated by color code.  Those in danger of being denied will be marked in yellow or red.

Board of Education Allows Final Year Students to Finish Degrees

Hughes suggested there hasn’t been sufficient oversight of the School of Education during the CAEP review.

“It sounds like the Board of Education was not being kept abreast,” she said.

Johnsen agreed that improved communication is preferable and is something he is working on.

On Monday, the Board of Education unanimously voted to accept the certifications of the roughly 65 students scheduled to graduate in Spring and Summer from the impacted programs.  The decision was in recognition of the accreditation that did not officially lapse until December 31.

Dybdahl noted the last semesters of the program involve mostly internships.

“Do you think that those affected by this situation will have difficulties when it’s time for them to find jobs and compete for jobs with others who may be coming from a situation that hasn’t been compromised in this manner?” Costello asked.

Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) Commissioner Michael Johnson said that while he can’t speculate on the potential stigma from an employer’s perspective, there has been significant public support for the students impacted.  DEED is prepared to track them and provide support through the Alaska Staff Development Network (ASDN), a professional development program for teachers.

Hughes worried about the students that might suffer under teachers with a deficient education of their own.

“Would you keep an eye on those specific teachers… for a set number of years?” she asked.

Commissioner Johnson said that raises some Human Resources concerns and is likely to be more of a decision at the district level.

Johnsen: “No Doubt” Budget Cuts Contributed to Loss of Accreditation

Multiple senators expressed concern for the 350 students still in the School of Education that are not scheduled to graduate in Spring or Summer.

If the School is going to continue, UAA must come up with a plan, submit it for consideration of DEED, then get final approval from the Board of Education.

In the meantime, Johnsen suggested students could “virtually transfer” to UAF and UAS and complete distance learning.  Those two schools can handle the load, he said.

He noted that new College of Education Executive Dean Steve Atwater was dean at UAF when it passed its re-accreditation review, so he is confident Atwater can guide UAS to re-accreditation.

Students can remain in Anchorage, doing a combination of distance learning and receiving periodic instruction from UAF and UAS instructors who fly in.  There will be no late registration or transfer fees.

“This is a temporary fix; this is not a fix,” Begich said of the distance learning idea.  “I don’t want us to be graduating or attempting to graduate people in our School of Education who have no future.”

Johnsen said a decision has not been made whether to reapply for accreditation.  The UAA Board of Regents is holding a town hall February 12 to discuss the issue.

Begich replied that not seeking accreditation “disturbs me a great deal.” 

“I think the message that it sends to our potential future teachers in Alaska is that education sort of matters, but we’re going to base our education school essentially in Southeast, despite the fact that over half the population of the state is located in the Southcentral area of Alaska,” he said.  “I do think it will send a message, a message loud and clear, to those who are residents in Southcentral… that education is not a priority for the university when it comes to creating new teachers for the state of Alaska.” 

Johnsen said that, like ASDN, UA has K-12 mentorships avail.  They have been tested in the classroom.

“It turns out that our teachers do better, they stay longer, and the kids’ scores are statistically significantly better as a result” of the mentorships, he said.

One possibility Johnsen considered is that mentors could be assigned to each of the new teachers for one year. 

But the program has been cut in the recent past, he acknowledged.

“We can promise the pie in the sky to these kids who are going into these programs, but if we actually can’t provide the resource, then what’s Plan B?” asked Begich.

Anticipating further cuts to university administration, Begich sarcastically referred to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s FY 2020 budget, expected on February 13, as a “Valentine’s gift to the university.” 

Johnsen said the university has taken $195 million in cuts over four of the last five years.  That impacted the School of Education’s ability to meet CAEP requirements.

“That has had a terrible effect on us.  Most of those cuts have been taken by administration,” Johnsen testified.  “So there’s no question that our administrative reductions across the university system have had an impact on this.  No doubt about it.  In areas like data analysis and what what we call ‘institutional research,’ they have definitely been pared back.”

UA has dealt with the cuts by prioritizing programs, like K-12 mentoring.

However, he said, “It will be even harder to do if, on February Thirteenth, we get a large number in red ink.”

“My hope is that we’re not going to lose a bunch of education students when our effort has been to try to get homemade teachers into our school system,” Begich worried.

The Board of Regents town hall will be at the Wendy Williamson Auditorium in Anchorage from 4pm to 6pm February 12.

This article brought to you by ZZ Top’s “Certified Blues.”

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