WestConn education program earns prestigious national accreditation
NCATE accreditation certifies quality and effectiveness of teacher preparation at WCSU
DANBURY, CONN. — Western Connecticut State University’s legacy of success in providing quality instruction and training for generations of elementary, middle and high school educators over the past century has earned prestigious professional validation with WestConn’s recent approval for accreditation by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
NCATE President James Cibulka notified WestConn President James W. Schmotter in November of the NCATE Unit Accreditation Board’s decision to grant accreditation to the WCSU School of Professional Studies (SPS) and the Department of Education and Educational Psychology at the initial and advanced levels of teacher preparation. “This accreditation decision indicates that the unit and its programs meet rigorous standards set forth by the professional education community,” Cibulka wrote in his notification letter.
The accreditation marked the realization of a goal established in the WCSU Strategic Planning Initiative, and the culmination of five years of extensive collaboration and administrative and technical support bringing together participants from the university administration and faculty and staff in SPS and the School of Arts and Sciences. SPS Dean Dr. Lynne Clark and former Chair of Education and Educational Psychology Dr. Kathryn Campbell served as co-coordinators for the NCATE accreditation process.
“The quest of colleagues here for NCATE accreditation has proven a journey full of collaboration and improvement—exactly what the process of professional accreditation should be,” Schmotter observed in welcoming news of the decision. “Our efforts to meet the national standards that NCATE defines have provided myriad benefits. And the ultimate beneficiaries are our students.”
From its founding as a normal college in 1903, Clark noted WestConn has been dedicated to the mission of educating school teachers, counselors and administrators and instructional leaders. Clark observed the decision to seek NCATE accreditation reflected a recognition that WestConn’s education program shares the Council’s commitment to instructional excellence and quality teacher training. She observed WestConn already had demonstrated that it met most NCATE requirements in its periodic accreditation reviews by the Connecticut Department of Education. The development and implementation of a comprehensive database system for performance-based assessment of teacher candidate training provided critical support for the university’s NCATE application, reflecting the Council’s emphasis on demonstrating successful outcomes in teacher preparation.
“In the past decade, NCATE has moved from an accreditation system that focused on curriculum and what teacher candidates were offered, to a data-driven performance-based system dedicated to determining what candidates know and are able to do,” a Council press statement noted. “The new system expects teacher preparation institutions to provide compelling evidence of candidate knowledge and skill in the classroom.”
Campbell, praised by Clark for her effective work with deans, department heads and faculty to coordinate participation in the NCATE application process, expressed confidence that the accreditation experience will provide the framework for ongoing collaboration to ensure consistency in performance assessment and continuous review and improvement of teacher training programs.
“Performance-based assessments put an emphasis on what students can do as a result of their education, how they translate their knowledge into practice in the classroom,” she said. “At a time when outside governance and accountability are national concerns in education, it is very important to make sure you are doing the necessary things to assure your students and the public that your programs are of the highest caliber.”
“NCATE accreditation validates with all your constituencies the standards that your teacher candidates, education faculty, and faculty in other academic fields maintain,” Clark concurred. “It tells the school districts that hire your graduates that you are producing teachers and educational leaders of high competency.”
In a field where students seek a competitive edge in seeking future teaching positions, the SPS dean added, “the first question that many incoming students ask is, ‘Are you an NCATE-accredited institution?’ They know that going to a university with accreditation not only means they will be getting a great education, but also can be very helpful when they go out to get a job.”
A veteran of more than a dozen accreditation reviews during her administrative tenures at Hunter College and WestConn, Clark affirmed the NCATE project was “easily the most challenging,” requiring extraordinary team effort among faculty and staff and support from Schmotter and Provost Dr. Linda Rinker. She viewed the result — full accreditation with two minor areas requiring improvement, both addressed before the NCATE decision was confirmed — as “a remarkable achievement. We got it right the first time around.”
“The measure of quality that you get from the rigorous process of a national accrediting body gives you that much more insight into the state and quality of your programs,” Clark said. “By focusing through performance-based assessment on the outcome — where you want your graduates to be — the NCATE review has given us a stronger way to know that we’re doing the right thing and heading in the right direction.”
Such assessment tools also provide valuable insights for students to evaluate and act upon recommended areas for improvement in their teaching skills, she added. In contrast to a course grade that offers only a general rating of academic performance, performance assessments are designed to provide descriptive reviews of specific aspects of teacher preparedness that enable faculty to identify each candidate’s weaknesses. “Student teachers learn from the performance review the specific areas where they need to work on improving their teaching skills,” she noted.
Clark credited Assistant Professor of Education and Educational Psychology Dr. Michael Wilson for his important contribution in designing the customized TK 20 System program used to collect information and build the database for performance assessments. She also cited Assistant Professor of Education and Educational Psychology Dr. Bonnie Rabe for her role in preparing some 300 electronic exhibits for the university’s final report to NCATE and in chairing the Educators’ Fair during the NCATE inspection team’s site visit to WestConn in April 2009.
The NCATE institutional report was coauthored by Clark and Campbell with significant chapter contributions by three faculty colleagues. In addition, WestConn faculty members submitted individual reports for 11 degree programs that have received NCATE designation for “National Recognition” by their specialized national professional associations. These include the post-master’s certificate program in intermediate administration and supervision, and bachelor’s degree programs in elementary education, health education, and secondary education programs in: history and social sciences; biology, chemistry and earth sciences; English; mathematics; and Spanish.
For more information, contact Clark at (203) 837-8576 or the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.
Western Connecticut State University offers outstanding faculty in a range of quality academic programs. Our diverse university community provides students an enriching and supportive environment that takes advantage of the unique cultural offerings of Western Connecticut and New York. Our vision: To be an affordable public university with the characteristics of New England’s best small private universities.