NAU graduate programs that focus on preparing professionals to work in school settings from pre-school through grade 12 will be seeking accreditation from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) this spring. In contrast to what the name of the accrediting body implies, the programs involved in this pursuit include all those that prepare professionals to work in any capacity in the school setting. In addition to programs for current and new teachers, programs for school administrators, counselors, psychologists, speech pathologists, and educational technology professionals are under review. Most programs are housed within the College of Education, although there are graduate programs in the College of Arts and Letters; the College of Engineering, Forestry, and Natural Sciences; and the College of Health and Human Services.
The focus of NCATE accreditation is consistent with that of NAU’s Office of Academic Assessment and of the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. Although NCATE accreditation evaluates unit operations, faculty expertise, and diversity, a strong emphasis is placed on evaluating student outcomes and the assessment systems of programs. Students must demonstrate they have the knowledge and skills specified by their program’s respective professional standards by the time they graduate. In addition, the students must also demonstrate they have professional dispositions to be effective in their role in the school setting. These dispositions have been specified by the faculty of the collective programs at NAU involved in NCATE accreditation. Most of the student outcome data are collected by means of assignments in electronic portfolios that have accompanying rubrics mapped to program standards. Every semester or academic year the aggregated candidate data for these assignments is reported and given to respective department chairs and faculty to analyze and use to make programmatic improvements.
NCATE accreditation is a voluntary external peer review process of professional education programs across the country. It serves as the bedrock for professional education programs upon which reputations of program quality are built, similar to that of other professions (e.g., engineering, medicine, and law). Accreditation of professional education units indicates that the unit underwent rigorous external review by professionals, that the performances of students in the programs have been thoroughly assessed before being recommended for licensure, and that programs meet standards set by the educational profession at large. Although NCATE accreditation is common in other states across the country, there are currently no NCATE accredited institutions in Arizona. In some states, school districts or state licensing agencies acknowledge only teaching licenses of students from NCATE accredited institutions. As the only NCATE accredited institution in Arizona, NAU will have a distinct advantage in job placement for its graduates from professional education programs. Perhaps more importantly, NAU will engage in the rigorous program evaluation that ensures our graduates can serve Arizona’s schools by providing competent and committed professionals who will make a difference.
Kathryn Hildebrand, Assistant Dean, College of Education