A Quick Chat with AAQEP President and CEO, Mark LaCelle-Peterson

How do you say AAQEP? Well, to literally make “a-quip,” that’s exactly how you say it. 

Teacher ed professionals began hearing and using the acronym AAQEP (Associate for Advancing Quality in Educator Preparation) a little over four years ago. Because some teacher educators may still be learning about this accrediting body or seeking advice for navigating accreditation during a pandemic, GoReact sat down and chatted with AAQEP President and CEO, Mark LaCelle-Peterson

How is AAQEP Different?

Mark LaCelle-Peterson is down to earth and personable, which mirrors the very organization he oversees. This shone through early when we asked him how AAQEP differs from other accrediting bodies in the United States.

“AAQEP allows for greater learning and for accreditation to be a lever for moving ahead as people share their very practical experiences and findings.”—Mark LaCelle-Peterson, CEO of AAQEP Click To Tweet

AAQEP is more localized—a bottom-up sort of organization. In fact, the phrase “grassroots” came to mind as LaCelle-Peterson outlined three singularities in AAQEP’s approach to accreditation: 

  1. Developing standards at a more localized level
  2. Including aspirational and contextual standards
  3. A strong emphasis on collaboration and mutual learning

Developing Standards at a More Localized Level

First, according to LaCelle-Peterson, AAQEP differs in how they develop its standards. He explained that policymakers in Washington can play a large role in developing the standards for accrediting bodies. But with AAQEP, “Our standards were developed in conversation with professionals in state agencies, campuses, and schools,” explained LaCelle-Peterson. “It is very much grounded in the profession.”

Including Aspirational and Contextual Standards

Second, it’s important to understand how the standards themselves differ. There are four core standards at AAQEP. Two are fundamental expectation standards. LaCelle-Peterson described these as the standards that “stay the same across the country— whether you’re in Utah or New York. Math candidates, people who are going to teach math, have to understand math.” 

The other two standards? To go along with the math candidate analogy, LaCelle-Peterson posed and answered a question: “How do you work with the schools to improve math instruction in the school? Well, that’s going to depend on what’s going on in the local schools.” 

AAQEP

To ensure standards align with the needs of different communities across the United States, the last two AAQEP standards are aspirational and contextual. In other words, AAQEP is attempting to structurally solve the answer to the age-old question: How do we balance the needs for general standardization and the needs of unique, individual communities? 

Lots of Discovery and Collaboration

Third, the final distinguishing feature of AAQEP is that they’re “building this association to emphasize collaboration and mutual learning.” What does LaCelle-Peterson mean by that? Well, from his experience working with other accrediting bodies “oftentimes, accreditation is inward-looking.” 

LaCelle-Peterson described a typical accreditation body’s set up: a particular campus does a self-study and asks three to five people to come in for a peer review. “And this is where the learning more or less stops,” he noted. To encourage more collaboration, they built a process with more opportunities for institutions to collaborate and learn together. 

“There are some little differences in AAQEP’s standards and some big differences in the process. It allows for greater learning and allows accreditation to be a lever for moving ahead as people share their very practical experiences and findings.”—Mark LaCelle-Peterson, CEO of AAQEP

The Importance of Partnerships 

An excellent example of this kind of collaboration is teacher ed programs working with local partners. Again and again, the importance of partners resurfaced during the interview. LaCelle-Peterson went as far as to say that strengthening local partnerships and digging into local context is a part of the ethos of AAQEP.

He eagerly shared an example when a program partnered with a local community development agency for student wraparound support. This collaboration led to inviting parents of students to come to classes to give their perspective. “I’ve never seen that before,” said LaCelle-Peterson.

The Magic Wand Question

When asked the one thing he would do if he could wave a magic wand, the answer also centered on partnerships. He answered, “If I could change one thing about accreditation, it would be greater policy consistency for P-12 education and educator preparation.” 

Why? To encourage partnerships. 

“If I could change one thing about accreditation, it would be to create greater policy consistency for P-12 education and educator preparation.” —Mark LaCelle-Peterson, CEO of AAQEP Click To Tweet

While P-12 and teacher education fall under the state education agencies, the rewards and incentives aren’t the same. The rewards for the P-12 system taking student teachers and doing observations isn’t as robust as for teacher education. Vice versa, “If the rewards for working on the school’s problems were as great within higher ed as the needs in P-12, then we’d be in a better place,” LaCelle-Peterson concluded.  

Navigating Accreditation During Coronoavirus 

Collaboration may seem difficult during the current pandemic, but LaCelle-Peterson expressed optimism. He offered four pieces of advice for those working on accreditation for their teacher prep programs. 

  • Keep everyone safe
  • Follow your state’s guidelines
  • Be flexible—these are asterisked semesters
  • Keep an eye on quality evidence

Gathering Evidence During Coronavirus 

The last piece of advice seems daunting. Gathering evidence remains a challenge during a normal school year. Add in the Coronavirus pandemic? Well, that’s beyond complicated. 

“Our advice to people is to keep your eye on the qualities that are important. You might be gathering the data in some different ways now, but keep track of it. Bring it together. See what we can learn from it. We recognize we’ve got a longer stream of data that we can look at to compare it to.” —Mark LaCelle-Peterson, CEO of AAQEP

Still, how do you gather evidence during a pandemic?

Using Video Observation and Simulations

Some creative solutions LaCelle-Peterson has seen are video observations and simulations. Whether the video capture takes place in schools that are meeting in-person or teacher prep programs logging into Zoom, Google Meet, or GoReact. “Whatever the video platform is, logging in, watching, and giving feedback,” said LaCelle-Peterson. 

“Video capture is a very good tool to use to increase the capability of reflecting for candidates on what they’re doing.” —Mark LaCelle-Peterson, CEO of AAQEP Click To Tweet

Along with more video, immersion simulation to observe candidates is a clever way to use technology. And you don’t need a high-tech simulation lab for this either. LaCelle-Peterson pointed out that having candidates give presentations to each other is a sort of simulation. It’s a simulation that’s easy to observe and easy to capture.

If asked to find a silver lining in all of this, LaCelle-Peterson commented on teacher prep programs realizing the benefits of video observation—during or post-pandemic. 

“Folks are finding what you can do in a video environment. You can record it. You can capture it. You can reflect on it. You can go back to it. And it’s not just relying on people’s memory. You can actually go back and revisit. Video capture is a very good tool to use to increase the capability of reflecting for candidates on what they’re doing.” —Mark LaCelle-Peterson, CEO of AAQEP

AAQEP

Overall, our interview with Mark LaCelle-Peterson gives encouragement. Encouragement that there are teacher education accrediting bodies with unique approaches. Encouragement for more local partnerships. And encouragement for the ability to gather evidence during a pandemic. 

So whether you’re trying to decide on an accrediting body to work with, need advice for gathering evidence during a pandemic, or just need some encouragement—our interview with Mark LaCelle-Peterson is a great starting point. 

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