Three and a half years ago, my team and I attended the first CAEP conference, wide-eyed, and anxious about meeting a new set of standards that still seemed like a moving and evolving target. As an Educator Preparation Program, we felt confident about our programs, and were invested in the notion of continuous improvement. We knew that being early CAEP adopters made us risk takers, and we were all in. And yet… our tenuous understandings of the standards and their implications bred anxiety. No one knew how the next 3 years would unfold.
A necessary first step in preparing for CAEP accreditation was a centralized system for quality assurance. CAEP Standard 5 describes such a system as an integral part of continuous improvement. As an EPP, we had multiple program-specific “systems” and practices in place, but this cobbling-together approach neither supported nor facilitated large-scale quality assurance and continuous improvement. The College of Education adopted Taskstream after a committee reviewed several options and determined that it was the best fit for our needs. Described as an Assessment Management System, our best conceptualization of this was that it would be a new and improved system for the collection of evidence items connected to the new standards – images of virtual milk crates and electronic binders came to mind.
The pilot semester began with just one program almost immediately upon adoption. Our Taskstream Implementation Specialist, Frank, patiently walked us through the preliminary steps of building a directed response folio (essentially a template for a portfolio where students submit evidence items which represent their proficiency in meeting program standards). It was early in the work of designing the directed response folio (DRF) that it became evident we were engaged in much more than just a new way to collect evidence items. Simple questions about the organization of the DRF led to deep discussions about our programs and CAEP standards. Discussions about the standards and the cross-cutting themes, led to questions about evidence. These questions about evidence (We think our candidates know/understand/do this, but how can we be sure, across 21 programs?) became the development of common, signature assignments. Solid signature assignments, evaluated with common rubrics, led us to wonder about growth (How can signature assignments be iterated vertically to reflect growth of candidate knowledge, skills and dispositions over the life of the program?). The discussions and engagement grew deeper and involved more voices as the quality assurance system provided the foundation for a shared leadership model.
And this was just in the first three months.
Soon the semester was over, and it was time to fly a metaphorical plane that was still being built. The processes one program stumbled through over the course of a pilot semester, would be rolled out, unit-wide, and to twenty-plus advanced programs, as well. It was a collaborative undertaking that represented a great amount of trust among colleagues and in the leadership of the college. Teacher Educators, accustomed to full autonomy in their course design, made changes in the name of coherence, continuous improvement and data driven decisions. Liaisons (clinical supervisors), comfortable in their “own” partner schools with their own tried and true practices were getting on board with common summative and performance assessments, which were impossible to implement without intense collaboration across contexts. The process was, at times, very smooth.
At other times, healthy resistance driven by legitimate questions and concerns compelled those aboard to wonder about the nature of changes. People questioned how and why accreditation should drive change and what the impact might be on students and teacher candidates. We challenged each new idea or revision, ensuring that they served not to check a box on a list of requirements, but rather best practices and the learning of candidates and p-12 learners.
Somehow, all parties boarded the plane and it flew.
Now, it’s three years past the first CAEP conference we attended and our CAEP accreditation visit has come and gone. Although the final report is still months away, and the daily work of teacher preparation continues at a fast pace and with intense commitment from candidates and faculty, we’ve taken a few moments to step back and reflect.
Ultimately, we see Taskstream as a tangible, living system, which brought all parties to the table. Authentic, continuous improvement can’t be the responsibility or the function of one leader or leadership team working in isolation. Rather, we found that meaningful continuous improvement generated and regenerated very organically through shared conversation, planning, problematizing, implementation and reflection, based in and sustained by a dedicated group of people working in a culture of inquiry. Taskstream will continue to be a critical component of continuous improvement, and Frank an integral member of our continuous improvement team! It provides the framework and the data to support new ideas, answer questions or generate inquiry. It’s dynamic and flexible, but supports stability and coherence in a teacher education unit, which stretches across our university. No longer is it a new way of operating, now, it’s just what we do.
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