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Studies show that teacher quality is the most important factor in P-12 student achievement. But how do we know that our children's teachers enter the classroom ready to help them learn?

Professional accreditation is one way to ensure the public that schools of education are graduating well-qualified teachers ready for today's classrooms. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette's College of Education has proven its commitment to producing quality teachers for our nation's children by achieving accreditation under the performance-oriented standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the organization responsible for professional accreditation of teacher education.

UL Lafayette’s College of Education was the first university in the state to be initially accredited back in 1954. “We have received re-accreditation every five years since that time,” said Gerald Carlson, dean of the College of Education. “Therefore, it is a matter of reputation and prestige.”

According to Carlson, many school districts will not hire teachers unless they have graduated from a university that is accredited. Universities with accredited programs tend to attract better quality students. “We believe we attract the best. UL Lafayette has more teachers teaching in the state of Louisiana than any other instate university,” Carlson said. “We have received an A+ Exemplary status on our annual state accountability report card.”

NCATE currently accredits 602 institutions which produce two-thirds of the nation's new teacher graduates each year. Ninety institutions are candidates or pre-candidates for accreditation.

NCATE-accredited schools must meet rigorous standards set by the profession and members of the public. Teacher candidates must have in-depth knowledge of the subject matter that they plan to teach as well as the skills necessary to convey it so that students learn. The college or university must carefully assess this knowledge and skill to determine that candidates may graduate.

The institution must have partnerships with P-12 schools that enable candidates to develop the skills necessary to help students learn. Candidates must be prepared to understand and work with diverse student populations.

College and university faculty must model effective teaching practices. And the school, college, or department of education must have the resources, including information technology resources, necessary to prepare candidates to meet new standards.

UL Lafayette's College of Education impressed the Board of Examiners through several of its programs and accomplishments. UL Lafayette has the only Masters in Gifted Education program in the state, and it was the first to redesign, get approved and implement the undergraduates alternative certification programs and graduate programs.

The college offers the LSUE-UL 2+2 program in elementary education where students at LSUE complete their first 60-65 hours in the Associates program then the College of Education at UL Lafayette delivers the second half of the program on the LSUE campus.

Each Spring the cohort group of approximately 30 students graduate with the rest of the UL Lafayette education graduates. Also, the new Master's in Educational Leadership was used as the model to attract a $3.5 million grant from the Wallace Foundation which involves four universities and four partnering school districts.

“ UL Lafayette was primarily responsible for the development of PASS-PORT, the Professional Accountability and Support System utilizing an electronic portfolio and continues to maintain the system on campus for the other universities in the state,” Carlson said. “We have created a new Center for Innovative Learning at Assessment Technology (CILAT) which is involved in creating Educational Intellectual Properties.”

NCATE revises its standards every five years to incorporate best practice and research in order to ensure that the standards reflect a consensus about what is important in teacher preparation today. 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. The new system expects teacher preparation institutions to provide compelling evidence of candidate knowledge and skill in the classroom. Multiple types of performance assessment are expected throughout the program of study. Candidate qualifications are assessed upon entry, and candidate competence is assessed throughout the program as well as prior to student teaching/internship work, and before completion of the program.

“ The COE had to create a living documents room with artifacts and student work samples relative to each NCATE Standard and all the elements of each Standard,” Carlson said. “I would guess we had over 5,000 documents that indicated how students met the performance requirements. All of this is tied into our assessment system which is stored in PASS-PORT.”

Meeting NCATE accreditation standards also helps institutions prepare new teachers for new, more rigorous licensing standards in many states. NCATE accreditation standards incorporate the model state licensing principles developed by a task force of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

“ The whole NCATE process changed since our last visit so we literally had to start from scratch to create the information they were looking for,” Carlson said. “For the previous visit, our Conceptual Framework centered around the "Teacher as a Decision Maker Model." The new Conceptual Framework is the "Responsive Professional" which better focused on the mission of the entire COE.”

Carlson said a three-year process allowed for the total redesign of all undergraduate programs, alternative certification programs, and graduate programs. The redesign involved tremendous collaboration with other colleges on the UL Lafayette campus. “Several departments created new courses specific to education majors,” he said. “ The redesign was a total university effort.”

The U. S. Department of Education recognizes NCATE as a specialized accrediting body for schools, colleges, and departments of education. NCATE is composed of more than 30 professional and policymaker organizations representing millions of Americans committed to quality teaching. It was founded in 1954 by the teaching profession and the states. NCATE continues its mission today: the profession and the states working together for excellence in teacher preparation and development.

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