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Editor: William Byrnes
Texas A&M University
School of Law

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Department of Education Releases Critical Report on ABA's Continued Recognition as Accreditor, ABA Withdraws Distance Education From Its Scope of Recognition

Inside Higher Ed reported that the DOE's National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) panel "rebuked the American Bar Association, in part for its 2000px-US-DeptOfEducation-Seal.svglack of attention to student achievement."  Inside Higher Ed reported that "the NACIQI, after three contentious votes, recommended that the department suspend the association's ability to accredit new members for a year.  The panel said the ABA had failed to implement its student achievement standards and probationary sanctions, while also falling short on its audit process and analysis of graduates' debt levels."

Distance Education

The ABA, the staff reports states: "In response to the draft analysis, the [ABA] agency withdrew distance education from their scope of recognition."

The agency needs to provide documentation that would attest to the qualifications of site team members to serve in their respective roles. ... The site evaluators training materials include distance education. However, formal training on distance education was not evident in the meeting agenda or materials. .... The Department also expects that all of the personnel involved in accreditation activities will have received training regarding the accreditation and evaluation of distance education programs.  As noted previously the agency provided no evidence of those involved in accreditation activities regarding distance education.

Staff Recommendation:   Continue the agency's recognition as a nationally recognized accrediting agency at this time, and require the agency to come into compliance within 12 months with the criteria listed below, and submit a compliance report due 30 days thereafter that demonstrates the agency's compliance.

Issues or Problems:   It does not appear that the agency meets the following sections of the Secretary’s Criteria for Recognition. These issues are summarized below and discussed in detail under the Summary of Findings section.

-- The agency must provide the twelve resumes of staff with responsibilities for accreditation activities, as listed on the submitted organizational chart but not included as evidence, to be assessed for this criterion. [§602.15(a)(1)]

-- The agency must provide the resumes for the four Council members and the one Data Policy & Collection Committee member not included in the documents provided for this criterion. [§602.15(a)(2)]

-- The agency must amend its standards, policies and procedures to include an academic and an administrative member in its composition of the Appeals Panel and provide evidence that an academic and administrative member serves on the Appeals Panel in the one defined role to demonstrate compliance with this criterion. [§602.15(a)(3)]

-- The agency standards, policies and procedures must be amended to clarify the requirements of the site evaluation questionnaire in lieu of the self-study. The agency must also provide evidence of these approved changes from the decision making bodies. [§602.16(a)(1)(viii)]

-- The agency standards, policies and procedures must be amended to clarify the requirements of the self-study and the site evaluation questionnaire. The agency must also provide evidence of these approved changes from the decision making bodies.
[§602.17(b)]

Download DOE Report on ABA NonCompliance

(2) Competent and knowledgeable individuals, qualified by education and experience in their own right and trained by the agency on their responsibilities, as appropriate for their roles, regarding the agency's standards, policies, and procedures, to conduct its on-site evaluations, apply or establish its policies, and make its accrediting and preaccrediting decisions, including, if applicable to the agency's scope, their responsibilities regarding distance education and correspondence education;

 

The agency states that the accreditation processes are performed by the council, accreditation committee, managing director, and appeals panel. The council has primary authority to determine compliance with agency standards; the accreditation committee makes recommendations to the council on various issues; the managing director oversees and reports all accreditation matters to the council and assures legal requirements are followed for law school accreditation; and the appeals panel considers appeals on denial or withdrawal of accreditation.

The agency's bylaws, standards, and rules of procedure for approval of law schools describe the criteria and composition of the Accreditation Committee, Council, appeals panel members, on-site evaluators, and team chairs. The rosters included as evidence identify the selection of qualified evaluators and decision makers as described in the written policies and procedures, however no curriculum vitae have been included demonstrating the qualifications via education and experience for the decision making bodies (which include the Accreditation Committee, Council, and appeals panel) for Department staff to review to ensure compliance with this criteria. The agency needs to provide documentation that would attest to the qualifications of site team members to serve in their respective roles.

The site evaluation teams consist of legal educators, practitioners, and a judge as demonstrated during the site visit observed by Department staff in February 2016 and within agency policies. The agency provided the internal operating practices as evidence which specifically outlines the qualifications needed for and the training of site team members, as well as the evaluation of site team reports by the managing director.

The agency provided training materials for the aforementioned groups as evidence. The materials are created to ensure understanding of the standards, policies, procedures in their perspective roles as a decision and policy-makers as well as the evaluators reviewing the application of standards, policies and procedures during site visits.

The site evaluators training materials include distance education. However, formal training on distance education was not evident in the meeting agenda or materials. In accordance with 602.27(a) (5) the agency notified the Department on June 16, 2014, requesting that the accreditation of distance education programs be included in its scope of recognition. As noted in aforementioned criterion such an expansion of scope is effective on the date the Department receives the notification. At the next full recognition review the Department expects the agency to demonstrate its ability to evaluate distance education. The agency has not provided evidence of such a review. The Department also expects that all of the personnel involved in accreditation activities will have received training regarding the accreditation and evaluation of distance education programs. As noted previously the agency provided no evidence of those involved in accreditation activities regarding distance education.

Also, the Data Policy & Collection Committee is introduced as part of the accreditation internal operating practices for legal education and admission to the bar. The role of the Data Policy & Collection Committee is not defined within the bylaws or standards and rules of procedure for approval of law schools, yet internal operating practices submitted as evidence by the agency states that the committee operate under the accreditation domain. The qualifications and the definition of the Data Policy and Collection Committee must be explained as it relates to accreditation


Analyst Remarks to Response:
In response to the draft analysis, the agency withdrew distance education from their scope of recognition and provided additional information and documentation to address the previous concerns related to competency of representatives as evidenced in Exhibits B-C and F-G in addition to further explanation of exhibits 10-11, 15, 17-19 and 21. Specifically, the agency included in the response resumes of the members of the Appeals Panel and Accreditation Committee but only some of the resumes for the Council and Data Policy & Collection Committee members (exhibits B-C and F-G). The agency also provided additional detail on the training of all entities involved in accreditation activities outlining the focus of these training workshops.

Finally, the agency clarified the role of the Data Policy & Collection Committee as it relates to the accreditation process of the agency. The agency attest s that the Data Policy & Collection Committee role is to continue a dialogue between the schools and the Council on the most effective and efficient ways to collect and report the data that is required to operate the agency’s accreditation process which falls under the Special Committees of Article X, section 2 within the agency Bylaws (exhibit 15). The agency provided the roaster for the Data Policy & Collection Committee members and all but one of the resumes for the members (exhibits 21 and G).
However, the exclusion of the resumes causes the agency to remain out of compliance with the criteria.
§602.16 Accreditation and preaccreditation standards
(a)(1)(viii) Measures of program length and the objectives of the degrees or credentials offered.

 
The agency’s measures of program length and the objectives of the degrees or credentials offered are found in standards 301 and 311. Standard 301 requires law schools to establish and publish learning outcomes while maintaining a rigorous program of legal education that prepares its students for admission to the bar and effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession. A description of learning outcomes is also required for distance education. Standard 311 requires not fewer than 83 credit hours for graduation of which 64 of these credit hours require attendance in regularly scheduled classroom sessions or direct faculty instruction; completion no earlier than 24 months and no later than 84 months; do not permit a student to be enrolled at any time in coursework that exceeds 20 percent of the total credit hours required by that school for graduation; and credit for a J.D. degree is only given for course work taken after the student has matriculated in a law school. Description of learning outcomes is also required for distance education.

The agency submitted documentation on standard 204-self study, which is submitted six weeks prior to the on-site review. The agency has adopted the site evaluation questionnaire to serve as a form of the self study. The agency submitted as evidence a guidance memo regarding compliance with Standard 204 and site evaluation workshop training materials on the self-study requirements.

The agency provided SEQs and site visit reports demonstrating the review of these criteria in addition to Department staff’s observation of an on-site evaluation. The agency has not provided a self-study demonstrating the changes mentioned in standard 204. In section 602.16(a)(1)(i), the agency narrative states that each law school is required to complete the SEQ (which now serves as the self-study), six weeks before its site visit. However, the agency’s standards and rules of procedure for approval of law school standard 204 states that a self-study is comprised of (a) a completed site evaluation questionnaire, (b) a statement of the law school’s mission and of its educational objectives in support of that mission, (c) an assessment of the educational quality of the law school’s program, (d) an assessment of the school’s continuing efforts to improve educational quality, (e) an evaluation of the school’s effectiveness in achieving its stated educational objectives, and (f) a description of the strengths and weaknesses of the law school’s program of legal education. The agency indicates distance education as part of their scope of recognition, but has not provided evidence of a review of distance education program for Department staff to assess. Also, the agency narrative indicates the inclusion of decision letters A and B (exhibit 31 and 32) demonstrating the results of this standards review, but is not included as evidence.

As noted previously, in accordance with 602.27(a) (5), the agency notified the Department on June 16, 2014, requesting that the accreditation of distance education programs be included in its scope of recognition. As noted in aforementioned criterion such an expansion of scope is effective on the date the Department receives the notification. At the next full recognition review the Department expects the agency to demonstrate its ability to evaluate distance education. The agency has not provided evidence of such a review. The agency needs to inform the Department if it still has a need or desire to accredit programs via distance. The agency also needs to inform the Department when it will be able to demonstrate to the Department (through its evaluation of a distance education program) that it has the ability to evaluate such programs and that all entities involved in accreditation activities have been trained in the accreditation and evaluation of distance education programs.

Analyst Remarks to Response:
In response to the draft analysis, the agency withdrew distance education from their scope of recognition and provided additional information and documentation to address the previous concerns related to the criteria as evidenced in the submitted exhibits. Specifically, the agency has updated standard 204 for law schools when submitting a self-study as evidenced in the agency memo (exhibit 73) announcing new interpretations for the standard as to rid the agency of duplication of efforts by the law school. The agency now requires law schools to submit a comprehensive site evaluation questionnaire in lieu of the separate self-study document, which must include all of the parts of standard 204. The agency has provided a site evaluation questionnaire, now entitled self-study (exhibits S, T and U) as part of the full cycle of review for this criterion. However, the agency standards do not reflect this new requirement. Standard 204 and the subsequent sections of the agency standards still identify the self-study and site evaluation questionnaire as separate requirements with separate definitions as sited in 602.17(b).

Initially, the agency submitted decision letters 31 and 32 to the Department a month after the renewal petition submission. The Analyst discovered discrepancies within the documents that were submitted late, thus finding the agency out of compliance with the criteria, which was discussed with the agency during follow up communication. The original agency documents were heavily redacted which made it unclear to the Department the connection between the documents to assess them for compliance with the criteria. The agency response has now included a table outlining the documents submitted as they relate to the redacted name of the schools designating all documents affiliated with schools A, B, and C. The documents submitted now contain full cycles of review for these schools, including a decision letter from April 2016 for school C, to demonstrate compliance with the criteria.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/intfinlaw/2016/06/department-of-education-releases-critical-report-on-abas-continued-recognition-as-accreditor-aba-wit.html

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