In a New Era of Education Accreditation, Miami University Helps Lead the Way

by James M. Loy, Miami University's College of Education, Health, and Society

When the 2016 CAEP external review team arrived, it was to see if Miami University’s College of Education, Health and Society (EHS) maintained high standards of excellence across numerous areas. Since a rigorous self-study of evidence had already been prepared, and submitted, EHS was confident that high marks would be hit. But now it was up to the review team to determine the accuracy of the evidence, and to see for itself if any areas for improvement (AFIs) had been overlooked since the last review seven years ago.

The goal was to exceed a series of accreditation criteria set to ensure that Miami, like all education preparation providers (EPPs), was successfully upholding a high level of consistency and quality. Among them were pedagogical knowledge, clinical partnerships, professional practice, candidate selectivity, faculty requirements, and program impact, as well as those related to continuous improvement, technological innovation, and diversity.

Without accreditation, students cannot apply to certain graduate schools or even acquire the professional licensure they need to a find job. So it is a big deal, and a considerably involved process.

The CAEP committee interviewed faculty members, reviewed the entire 4-year performance records of randomly selected students, and more. In all, it scrutinized over 135 sources of evidence, and when the new 2016 results were finally released on November 15, 2016, it was to the eager anticipation of both administrators and faculty members alike.

The official ruling was that Miami University, as a unit -- which included applicable parts of EHS and the art and music education programs from the College of Creative Arts -- would be officially granted CAEP accreditation.

The announcement came with some relief, but it also carried a high degree of validation. Acquiring national accreditation in and of itself is a significant achievement, but passing CAEP meant that Miami University was now among first institutions to do so, which effectively established it as leader among the wider EPP community.

CAEP stands for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, and it has recently assumed control of the entire accreditation process that sets the standards of quality and rigor that all EPPs must now abide. It is so new that few EPPs have yet undergone the CAEP process, but they all will, eventually. And when they do, it will be a journey into relatively unknown territory for most.

Before CAEP, two separate organizations known as NCATE and TEAC oversaw accreditation. But many felt caught in between the two opposing paradigms. To reduce this push and pull, the solution was to simply combine NCATE and TEAC. Thus, CAEP was born, and it became the universal accrediting gatekeeper for the entire educational preparation community.

This union has only recently taken effect. So to ease the transition, there was a small window where institutions facing re-accreditation were given a choice. They could either undergo a legacy NCATE review and be held to the old well-known standards. Or they could forge ahead, and test themselves against the new and unfamiliar CAEP review.

Finding itself within this window, Miami chose to forge ahead.

“We thought we might as well be on the front end of it and jump on board,” said Cheryl Irish, EHS Director of Accreditation and Assessment. “We thought that would be good for us. It all goes toward leadership in the professional community.”

The inaugural CAEP review was demanding, especially the preparation involved. Since CAEP itself was so nascent, Miami had to take care to ensure that its self-reported evidence was both extensive and somehow in line with a host of new expectations.

Some of the criteria were the same, though others were entirely new. But preparation and diligence paid off. Even though it didn’t have a perfect CAEP score, Miami, as a unit, came extremely close. In fact, the only mark was very minor. All previous areas for improvement had been cleared, but Miami now only needed to design a timeline for establishing a progress record to measure the success of former students who had since begun working as professionals. This particular criterion had never been required before, but it was now something that all EPPs would have to consider as well.

Even despite the slight AFI, the resulting ruling meant that Miami University would officially stand as one of the first institutions to successfully complete CAEP accreditation. And not only within the state of Ohio, but across the entire country. Miami currently exists on the other side of a required process that all other education prep providers will soon have to face.

“We are setting the bar, if you will, for what CAEP evidence should look like, and I love that,” said Irish. “Rather than having someone tell us, we get to set the bar. It is nice that we are able to lead in that way.”

Some EHS faculty members have already been contacted and asked to consult for several outside universities. They, too, want to know how to best prepare for the looming CAEP visit. They want to know what to expect, how to do better, and, most importantly, how they can be just as successful.

The new CAEP accreditation also gave EHS a chance to demonstrate a number of key improvements it had recently implemented across the entire division.

Seven years ago, the accreditation team observed additional room to improve diversity, officially stating that, “Teacher candidates have limited opportunities to interact with peers from diverse populations.”

Across many parts of the country, diversity is a serious issue that is being increasingly scrutinized, especially in higher education, where historically the population has been predominantly white. But things are changing, and Miami University is at the forefront of this movement. After the AFI, EHS quickly enacted a plan to further build, nurture, and promote diversity in a variety of ways.

Miami’s primary goal was to increase student diversity, which addressed the AFI directly by bolstering efforts to recruit students of color and to provide enhanced support for those with disabilities, as well as by offering additional diversity-related scholarships. Next, EHS looked to further increase diversity through a host of secondary measures, which included additional considerations concerning faculty.

“We have worked very hard in that area,” explained Irish. “We’ve increased the diversity within our faculty significantly. In our handbook it says we must consider diverse candidates in the [hiring] pool. If we do not have a diverse candidate pool, then we have a failed search. And to accommodate for any lack of diversity, we also find textbooks from authors of color and we bring in speakers of color.”

EHS also marked additional progress by introducing diversity-centric programs and partnerships. The Urban Teaching Cohort (UTC), for example, has been established to introduce both teachers and students to diverse urban perspectives through face-to-face local community-based collaboration. Other diverse peer interactions have also been facilitated through many study abroad opportunities across Australia, Europe, Luxembourg, and more.

So now, fast forward seven years, and the new CAEP accreditation ruling has officially cleared the docket from any diversity related issues.

“We’ve created some fantastic learning opportunities for our EHS students that expose them to diversity,” Irish continued. “Our focus now is on retaining our diverse faculty.”

As far as diversity and accreditation are concerned, EHS has not only made several notable improvements, it also now has a clean slate. One that will serve as a foundation upon which EHS will continue to build the innovative, holistic, and integrated programs needed to meet the evolving needs of students and communities everywhere.