'A fundamental failure:' Lawmakers grill UAA on accreditation
A day after the state Board of Education approved a plan to get accreditation back on track for hundreds of University of Alaska Anchorage education students, UAA's leaders faced tough questions from state lawmakers on what happened.
The Senate Education Committee heard from the university, as well as the state Department of Education and Early Development, about what led seven initial licensure programs in UAA's School of Education to lose their accreditations from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
"What is your intent in the long run?" asked Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage. "In terms of those maybe midway through a program or just beginning a program, my hope is that we are not going to lose a bunch of education students. Our effort has been to get a bunch of homemade teachers into our school systems."
The plan approved Monday calls for UAA to create a full response, then submit it to first DEED officials and then the Board of Education for approval.
"We're in the middle of a process, waiting on the university to come up with a plan for the fall term and then go from there," said James Fields, the board's chair.
"Were there any red flags?" Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, asked University of Alaska President Dr. Jim Johnsen. "Was there any indication that the accreditation would be revoked, or was this something that caught you by surprise?"
"It did catch me by surprise," Johnsen said. "I did understand that it was not a slam dunk. I was under the impression we would likely succeed."
Issues had previously been raised, Johnsen said, but no specifics.
"We're just now seeing the data," Johnsen said. "We're seeing, unfortunately now, the very serious problems CAEP identified and that were not addressed at the time."
The CAEP ultimately found that affected UAA programs met only one of five major criteria.
"When you get a 20 out of 100, that's a really serious problem," Johnsen said. "No question about it."
Although UAA can appeal the CAEP findings, it has opted not to do so.
"It's a pretty fundamental failure here," Johnsen said.
UAA is collaborating with other UA campuses to ensure students have an approved path to licensure, and is working with students on a case-by-case basis. In the meantime, transfer fees, late registration and any other student costs resulting from the revocation have been waived by UAA.
"The people responsible for this: Have they been pinpointed, are they still in those positions, have they been replaced?" asked Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer.
"The interim director of the program, the provost overseeing the academic program and the chancellor of UAA are all new names," Johnsen said.
Johnsen said CAEP accreditation is a relatively recent development, combining two other accreditation programs in 2016. Its seven-year certifications are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
"Of the 850 providers in the CAEP accreditation system, I do know that four or five programs have been denied," Johnsen said. "This is uncommon; whether I agree with the decision or not, I accept it and every single criticism in it."
The timeline for the CAEP revocation began in August 2017, when UAA provided a self-report. In December of that year, CAEP responded with a formative report sent back to UAA.
CAEP followed up with a site visit in April 2018, providing a UAA a report on the visit in June. UAA was told to expect a December decision from CAEP, which was ultimately relayed to the university in January of this year.
"It's important to note that this takes a long time," Johnsen said. "Two years of review. Reaccreditation will take at least three years because of steps like this in the process."
"Are we asking too much of the university, as it relates to some of the standards and students in the program?" asked Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage.
"We did not provide enough evidence," responded Claudia Dybdahl, the School of Education's interim director. "CAEP is new, I walked into it new. I do support CAEP and do feel it will make UAA's program stronger. We failed to provide evidence that those transition points were in place across programs."
One of the CAEP review's findings was that UAA's recruitment into the affected programs was more informal than formal, with no benchmarked plan in place.
"What happened?" Hughes asked. "Are the teachers not qualified or is it just a matter of not providing data?"
"It's the data," Dybdahl said. "We did not provide the data. We do have it, I did compile it, our students do meet the CAEP standard, but it was not provided in the report."
As far as what happens next, UAA is still undecided.
"This is not a situation we want to be in," Johnsen said. "There is an apology due. I have not made a decision and the (University of Alaska) Board of Regents have not yet made a decision whether to reapply for accreditation. Again, it would be a three year process; Board of Education approval would be needed for that entire time."
If the decision is made not to reapply, UA's Fairbanks and Southeast campuses still have accredited education programs affected UAA students could attend.
The Board of Regents plans to meet with UAA education students on Feb. 12, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the university's Wendy Williamson Auditorium. Regents plan to consider a range of options to assist affected students at their next meeting on Feb. 28.
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