Published on 2013/05/06

Mapping Accountability: Plan your Work then Work your Plan

Mapping Accountability: Plan your Work then Work your Plan
By focusing on competencies, higher education institutions can be more assured that their graduates will be able to function effectively in the workforce and will prove their value both to students and employers.

One of the most frequent conversations we have at our institution focuses on increasing our accountability to both our students and future employers. Now, more than ever, there is a need to systematically assess core competencies such as critical thinking, digital literacy, professional behavior, the ability to collaborate and effective communication to ensure our program completers have the skills and dispositions to contribute to and thrive from day one in their respective professions.

Recently, resounding “boos” have come from some business owners and companies disappointed in the performance of newly-hired graduates, particularly in regard to their professionalism. According to an annual study conducted by York College of Pennsylvania’s Center for Professional Excellence, 48.6 percent of employers responsible for hiring new college graduates report worsening of work ethic while 35.9 percent report a decrease in new employees demonstrating professionalism. [1] Given the fast-paced and ever-changing landscape in the contemporary workplace environment, many institutions are beginning to concentrate on instilling broad learning outcomes that can be generalized to differing occupational demands.

At American Public University (APUS), we have partnered with the Lumina Foundation to enhance our responsiveness to the concerns about workforce readiness and to benchmark our degrees based on specific learning outcomes at the associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree levels. Through the process of clearly articulating what students are expected to know and be able to do once they’ve earned their degree, we also map our own accountability as an institution of higher education. We systematically plan how we will facilitate this learning and then constantly evaluate and assess disaggregated and aggregated student data to determine how well our plan is working.

In the School of Education, we discuss accountability in the context of our obligations to the West Virginia Department of Education, to program completers and certification candidates and to specialized accrediting bodies. To ensure accountability and cohesiveness in American public education, measures such as standardized curriculum in K-12 schools and state-wide teacher evaluation systems have been implemented. As a result of these initiatives, scrutiny has increasingly turned to education preparation providers (EPPs) in higher education. One group that has been very proactive about the role and responsibility of EPPs is the Council of Chief State School Officers. Last spring, I attended the National Summit on Educator Effectiveness as one of four representatives from West Virginia. The Council of Chief State School Officers hosted this event in Seattle in May 2012. Many conversations focused on accountability, K-12 student achievement and the transformation of educator preparation programs. It was exciting to hear a taskforce has been formed to address the challenges of teacher and educational leader preparation.

This is timely as many of our conversations in the APUS School of Education continue to center on how all educator preparation programs can improve and how educators can positively impact student achievement. Research abounds on the need to improve the quality of teachers being prepared to enter the profession. K. J. Tate contends that “ongoing debate about teacher education continues through changing political, economic and societal contexts and eras. Often at the forefront of discussion is what constitutes effective, quality components of teacher education programs.” [2]

In my work as a university supervisor and director of continuous program improvement, I focus on positioning my students to be fully prepared for their chosen profession. In order to do this, I realize there must be transparency of curriculum and an alignment between what students will know when they complete our educator preparation programs and what they need to know to survive and thrive during their induction year and beyond.

We continue to strive towards data-driven decisions and better communication with the West Virginia Department of Education and K-12 school districts so we are in tune with the realities and expectations of today’s K-12 educator. Our team of program directors talks daily about “where the rubber meets the road,” in terms of preparing our candidates for the complex daily challenges they will encounter in K-12 classrooms. As former practitioners ourselves, we realize the study of education must be grounded in sound theory and research. Additionally, it must be augmented and honed by the practice of education in the learning environment.

We would love to hear from the practicing educators in the field. What was the most valuable advice, practice or training you received from your educator preparation program that helped you succeed in the classroom?

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[1] York College of Pennsylvania’s Center for Professional Excellence, “2013 Professional Study,” 2013, page 8. Available from

[2] K. J. Tate.  “Integrating humane education into teacher education: Meeting our social and civic responsibilities.” Teacher Education & Practice, 24(3), 2011, p. 301.

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Readers Comments

Kendra Willis 2013/05/06 at 10:54 am

More and more, institutions will have to measure “non-cognitive” skills if they want to attract adult students, many of whom have been out of school for a long time. Some higher education institutions are now asking applicants to fill out a supplementary form with question prompts designed to draw out the applicant’s skills.

For example, a prompt might ask the applicant to describe a time he or she resolved a problem. There’s debate on how effective this method is. Perhaps others who are familiar with this can comment on their experiences using it.

Yvonne Laperriere 2013/05/06 at 4:13 pm

I believe that transparency of curriculum is key. It’s an effective way to get student buy-in, as they will know exactly what is expected of them by the time they graduate. It makes learning a more collaborative effort, in the sense that when you set your expectations from the get-go, you’re not only relying on faculty to deliver, but students will feel like they have a hand in the direction their education is taking.

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