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Fall 2018 Articles

Something Old, Something New

If you’ve been invited on a site visit in the last several months you may have noticed we’ve been working on introducing a lot of new ways of doing things. We’ve moved almost all of the information and documents that we used to send out to site visitors via email onto Sharefile, and we’ve transitioned  the visit-related evaluation forms from a hard copy paper format to an online survey platform. We’ve created an online training module for site visitors on the 2016 Standards and plan to provide more training online going forward.

As the number of accredited institutions continues to climb, the demand for visitors has never been greater. I want to ensure that we are able to effectively manage the site visit process while providing additional support to all of you. One way that you can help us with this is to update your team member information.  Click here to provide up-to-date information for the Team Member Database. In addition, we continue to look for other opportunities to improve aspects of our site visit process and to ensure that things run smoothly for team members and sites alike. Please let me know your related ideas and suggestions.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the amazing commitment evidenced by CACREP’s wonderful site visitors.  I have been continually impressed by your willingness to serve as site visitors, even on short notice, and your professionalism in ensuring a thorough and fair review of programs. I cannot thank you enough for your support of the CACREP accreditation process and your service to the counseling profession.

As with our past newsletters, we’ve asked one of our site visitors to provide some thoughts on topics important to conducting site visits. In this issue Dr. Amy Milsom shares thoughts on preparation of the team report and recommendation. We hope that this and our past newsletters will be a resource that come back to as the need arises, but never feel afraid to reach out to me or Robert if questions ever arise.

Warmest Regards,

Jonathan Collum

Writing the Team Report and Recommendation

By Dr. Amy Milsom, Clemson University

Submitting the on-site team report and recommendation is the final task of any CACREP site visit, and I always look forward to closing out the visit and crossing that off my list. I have participated on and chaired many on-site teams over the past 16 years, and my approach to writing the team report and recommendation has evolved over time. Interestingly, I came away from my first CACREP Board meeting this past July with a whole new perspective on writing those documents. With a better understanding of how the Board uses that information, my main purpose here is to offer some words of wisdom regarding writing the team report and recommendation. First, a few overarching comments:

1. One of my overall goals in preparing the team report is to ensure both the program and the CACREP Board feels the team did a thorough, accurate, and fair job evaluating the program. Remember that program faculty, institutional administrators, and the CACREP Board all read the team report. The CACREP staff does not edit the report before sending it. Be sure to write both documents thoroughly, clearly, and in an unbiased manner.

2. Additionally, keep in mind that the content of the team report and recommendation should reflect the consensus of the team rather than any one individual’s perspective or opinion. Team chairs should ensure they seek feedback from all members, and team members must speak up to ensure their perspectives are heard. This collaborative approach can help ensure one person’s potential misunderstanding or bias does not end up in the report. I have participated on many teams where we had to spend some time discussing differing interpretation of various standards in relation to the documentation provided by the program, and in some instances we called CACREP in the middle of the visit for clarification. In the end, each team member should help keep the others in check, and everyone should feel comfortable with the final report.

3. Make sure you have up to date information about the Standards, and when in doubt, contact CACREP. I can’t imagine anything more infuriating to a program than receiving a report that reflects inaccurate interpretations of the Standards. For example, some site team members are still operating under the belief that programs must provide evidence of student outcomes for all curricular standards in the 2016 Standards. Programs must provide input data for all 2016 curricular standards – indicating where each content area is covered in the curriculum. But, while the 2009 Standards did require programs to provide outcome data for each of the specialty area curricular standards, the 2016 Standards do not. Further, neither the 2009 or 2016 Standards require outcome data be provided for every core curricular standard. Team members are responsible for being knowledgeable about the Standards, and hopefully the collaborative approach used by the team helps ensure misunderstandings reflected in the team report occur infrequently.

4. Finally, remember that the spirit of the standard is what matters. CACREP has always maintained there are numerous ways to meet a standard, and team members must take caution to not impose expectations or preferences that go beyond the spirit of the standard. Initiating opportunities for programs to discuss how and why they approach certain standards as they do can help the team become aware of important contextual factors that influence how the program approaches the standards – and team members should take those into consideration as they determine if each standard is or is not met. 

The Team Report

The purpose of the team report is two-fold. The first purpose is to provide information to the program regarding which standards the team did and did not believe were met. This information is critical in helping the program determine what kinds of modifications might be needed in order to meet the standards, as well as in helping them advocate – to clearly convey to institutional administrators what resources and supports must be in place for the program to maintain accreditation. The second purpose of the team report is to provide information to help the CACREP Board make a final accreditation determination. Although the Board reviews all self-study materials earlier in the initial or reaccreditation process, once a site visit has been conducted, the Board typically relies on the content provided in the team report and recommendation as well as the institution’s response to the team report. As such, providing thorough, accurate, and detailed information in those documents is critical. The following recommendations can help ensure each intended audience gets what it needs.

1. Complete the Program Information Section. The first section of the team report asks for information regarding the institution, team members, agenda, and program – including a program description. Information in the program description section can provide important context for the Board to consider. For example, in addition to summarizing the type of institution, programs and degrees offered, and number of core faculty, I might mention in that section something about how the counselor education program offers the only doctoral program on campus or that the program aims to recruit and serve a regional population of students. I also might mention significant changes that occurred recently in the program. CACREP has some historical information about each program, but might not have current information about various aspects of the institution or program unless the team provides these kinds of details. 

2. Stick Closely to the Standards. The purpose of the site visit is to determine if the program is in alignment with the CACREP Standards, and at the end of each section the team indicates which standards they believe to be met or not met. This is also where the team offers suggestions and identifies program strengths. I want to give some credit to the person who chaired my first site visit. I won’t embarrass him by naming names, but what he said about the importance of staying close to the Standards really stuck with me. Anything the team lists as a Specific Requirement must directly relate to a specific standard. Ideally, the same holds true for suggestions and strengths included in the team report. On teams I chair, I try to keep this in check by actually listing the relevant standard by each comment. For example, in the Strengths section I might write “Standard 1.G – the institution offers extensive support via online and in-person trainings for program faculty and students in the use of technology.” I find this approach helps ensure the team is focusing on the standards, rather than on aspects of the program for which team members simply might have strong positive or negative feelings.

That being said, while most suggestions and strengths the team shares can be connected with one or more standards, there might be comments that are more difficult to connect to any specific standard. One example might be in relation to commenting on how students say the faculty are very approachable and supportive. Comments like that certainly would be appropriate in the strengths section of the team report, but the overwhelming majority of comments should directly relate to specific standards.

3. Clarify Specific Requirements. The Specific Requirements section is where the team identifies any standards they believe to be not met – ALL standards the team believes are not met must be listed here. The program and the CACREP Board need to receive an accurate, comprehensive, and clear list of requirements. Numerous problems often arise in this section, so consider the following as you write this part of the report:

■  Take some time to accurately identify which standards are not met – be sure you cite the appropriate standard. In some instances, team reports identify one standard as not met when actually a different standard should have been cited. For example, if a program does not make program modifications based on their program evaluation data, standard 4.C should be cited along with 4.D, since both reference the inclusion of program modification information. In contrast, if the program does use data to inform program modifications but they simply have not included information about modifications in their annual report, then only 4.D would be cited. If the CACREP Board reviews a team report and sees a discrepancy between a standard cited by the team and a standard that should have been cited, it becomes confusing to convey that information back to the program (and it is probably frustrating for the program to receive mixed messages).

■  The team should clearly indicate which standards are not met. Although it might feel cumbersome and lengthy, it can be more helpful to the program and to the Board to see unmet standards listed individually rather than lumped together. For example, suppose curricular standards 2.F.7.c and 2.F.7 d are deemed not met. Rather than indicate in the Specific Requirements section that “2.F.7 c-d” were not met, an ideal way to convey this information in the report would be as follows:

■ 2.F.7.c – The program must provide evidence of where “procedures for assessing risk of aggression or danger to others, self-inflicted harm, or suicide” is covered in the curriculum.

■ 2.F.7.d – The program must provide evidence of where “procedures for identifying trauma and abuse and for reporting abuse” is covered in the curriculum.

Similar to the previous, it is equally important to clarify which parts of standards are not met.

For example, if the team is concerned about a program not meeting 1.Q (The academic unit makes continuous and systematic efforts to recruit, employ, and retain a diverse faculty to create and support an inclusive learning community) but only in relation to the “retain” part, then it would be helpful to cite 1.Q and use or emphasize the language only related to the unmet part: “1.Q – the program must provide evidence of continuous and systematic efforts to retain diverse faculty.” If the team had simply cited the full standard as written, it would not be clear to the program or to the CACREP Board that only one part of that standard was in question.

■ When indicating Specific Requirements, it is best to use the verbiage of the standard rather than your own interpretation of the standard. See my previous example – I used quotation marks around the language of the standard. Sometimes team reports include specific requirements that reflect the team’s preference for how to meet a standard, or what often seems like a reflection of a conversation the program and team might have engaged in regarding how they would try to meet the standard. This becomes problematic because the Board will hold a program to requirements delineated on the team report.

For example, suppose a team included the following specific requirement in the report: “3.N.3 – the program must provide evidence of site supervisors completing the program’s online supervisor training” – because the program had indicated it was going to require an online training to meet that standard. The wording of that specific requirement now prescribes what the program must do to meet that standard. The language used in the report does not allow for alternate ways of meeting the standard, so the program will assume that is how it must address the standard, and the Board would expect to see evidence specifically related to an online supervisor training. Rather than lock programs into one way of addressing a standard, the preference is to list unmet standards as I did above – using the exact wording of the standard – to allow for maximum flexibility. Programs often can benefit from suggestions for how to meet various standards, but those should be offered in the Suggestions section (which are optional – programs are not held to those).

■ Consider providing factual statements for context, when relevant, before stating the specific requirement. Programs sometimes express confusion regarding why they might not have met a standard, and even if the team discussed these reasons during the site visit, the program might forget by the time they receive the report. Administrators and the CACREP Board also can benefit from knowing what the program did have in place related to each unmet standard, so they can better understand what was missing. Providing context via a brief statement indicating what the team noticed, before stating the specific requirement(s), could help all audiences.

For example, suppose a program shares the required information with students through websites and emails and other forms of communication, but they don’t actually disseminate a formal handbook. In that instance, I might cite the following standards, providing context before listing the specific requirement in italics:

■ M – The program provided evidence that it conducts a student orientation at the beginning of the first term of enrollment, during which time it discusses students’ ethical and professional obligations and personal growth expectations as counselors-in-training as well as eligibility for licensure/certification. The program must provide evidence of disseminating and discussing a student handbook at that time.

■ N – Via multiple methods of communication (i.e., program website, PowerPoints shared during the program orientation) the program provided evidence that it shares information with students regarding (1) the mission statement of the academic unit and program objectives, (2) information about professional counseling organizations, opportunities for professional involvement, and activities appropriate for students, (3) matriculation requirements, (4) expectations of students, (5) academic appeal policy, (6) written endorsement policy explaining the procedures for recommending students for credentialing and employment, and (7) policy for student retention, remediation, and dismissal from the program. The program must provide evidence of developing a student handbook that contains all of those pieces of information. 

4. Offer Suggestions.

■ The Suggestions section is a great place to share ideas for how the program could approach various standards. Some suggestions will serve to offer the program ideas for how to meet standards that are not currently met, which other suggestions will be offered in the spirit of helping programs consider alternative ways of meeting standards more efficiently or clearly. Be careful, however, not to write suggestions in a way that would come across as prescriptive. Using phrases that are more tentative in nature (e.g., the program might consider…) can help in this regard.

■ Avoid writing suggestions in a way that would imply a standard was not met. For example, suppose a program had struggled to maintain the required FTE ratio, but in recent semesters they have made some changes and have been able to maintain the 12:1 ratio. Let’s assume the site team wanted to offer a suggestion to help encourage the program and administration to continue to provide resources to maintain the recent practices they put in place. In this situation, if the Board reads a suggestion worded like “1.T: The program should continue to manage student enrollment to ensure the FTE ratio is met,” they might assume the FTE actually was not met, and they likely would have to dig through the self-study and other documentation to seek clarity. A more desirable way to write that type of suggestion is to provide a statement of context followed by a suggestion, such as: “1.T: The program has implemented an enrollment management plan that has resulted in them meeting the 12:1 FTE ratio for the past three semesters. It will be important that they maintain those practices and/or continue to be proactive in ensuring the FTE ratio is met each year.” With this type of suggestion, the team clearly indicates the standard is met and offers a suggestion simply to encourage the program to stay on top of it.

5. Highlight Strengths. As counselors, I think we always want to help people identify their own strengths, and a parallel process occurs with site teams and the programs they review. Try to remember how important the strengths you identify might be in terms of program advocacy. When I can, I make a point to make connections between identified strengths and institutional initiatives or to aspects of the program that have been contentious (e.g., an enrollment management plan that resulted in more rigorous admissions process and lower FTE). 

The Team Recommendation

The purpose of the team recommendation is to indicate to the Board what the team believes is a reasonable accreditation decision, based on the information they gathered through the self-study and on site. The Board will make a final accreditation decision based on the team recommendation as well as on information provided to them in the institutional response. In some instances, a program might provide the Board documentation that was not made available to the site team, resulting in a final accreditation decision that is different from the team recommendation. To help the Board, the recommendation should include two parts:

1. The team recommendation should be consistent with the information in the team report.

If the team believes all standards are met, they should be recommending 8 years. If the team has identified even one standard as not met, then either a 2-year or no accreditation recommendation should be made. 

2. The team should provide a brief narrative to give the Board some context for the recommendation.

Remember that only the Board sees the recommendation, so any information that would not have been appropriate to share with the program in the team report could be important to include here – especially in relation to helping the Board become aware of factors that could affect the program’s ability to meet the standards. This might include pointing out standards the program was confused or unclear about or challenges the program faces in relation to resources or supports. Even when the recommendation is for 8 years, it can be helpful for the Board to receive a little more information for context. For example, I might include some of the following types of comments:

■ For an 8-year accreditation recommendation, the team might acknowledge that although many standards were cited in the addendum, they thoroughly reviewed the information provided by the site and feel confident the program meets all standards.

■ The team might mention briefly how the program seemed very confused by Section 4 and that the team spent a lot of time explaining to faculty the intent of those standards. They also might mention that the program seemed to appreciate the assistance and was working to address those standards now with a new understanding. Finally, the team could convey their confidence the program can get things in place to address Section 4 fully within a 2-year timeframe.

■ The team might provide some background regarding difficulty the program has had with faculty turnover, which has led to them hiring more adjunct faculty in the last two years, resulting in the core/non-core ratio not being met. They also might share that team discussions with administrators confirmed their commitment to filling those lines as quickly as possible.

 Final Considerations

I definitely have learned a lot through my years conducting site visits, and in my short time on the CACREP Board I already have learned quite a bit more than I anticipated. I shared the information above in the spirit of passing along a little of what I have learned as well as some of the ways I apply that information when I write the team report and recommendation. I always want to feel like the reports I send in are helpful, but as site team members, we often don’t know for sure how people respond to the documents we submit. If you follow some of the suggestions offered above, you can feel more confident the program and the CACREP Board will receive clear, accurate, and unbiased messages.

Update: CACREP Site Visitor Continuing Education, Evaluation, and Feedback Project

Thank you for all of your work you do in support of the CACREP accreditation process and counselor preparation as volunteer site visitors for CACREP. As noted in previous issues of this newsletter, the CACREP Board and Staff have been working on a plan to provide our site visitors with ongoing training and updates, evaluation, and feedback. Although we’re still in early stages, I want to offer a more comprehensive picture of where we’re heading:

Ongoing Training and Updates for Site Visitors (pt. 1):
Because site visits are so critical to CACREP’s accreditation process, we need to maintain a pool of site visitors who are well prepared. That doesn’t just mean reviewing materials for a visit, it also means developing the mindset, knowledge, and skills that successful site visitors need.

With that in mind, CACREP is developing an array of training opportunities. Our goal is to offer a library of training resources and to require continuing education for all site visitors. Many of the training resources will have a CACREP continuing education point value (we call them ‘Cake’ Points), and site visitors will, over time, need to maintain a minimum Cake Point total to remain active and eligible.

For example, each issue of The Visitor will have content addressing site visit-related topics and a short quiz that you can complete to demonstrate understanding and earn points. The quizzes aren’t time sensitive (i.e., you can go back and complete quizzes for previous newsletters)and they’re open newsletter.

CACREP also has a new platform for on-demand, asynchronous training modules and courses. The first course, a brief overview of the CACREP 2016 Standards, is available now for you to complete. All site visitors should register and access the training – it’s free.

By successfully completing the assessment at the end, site visitors will earn Cake Points. If you’re a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC), you can earn a full NBCC CE hour too.

If you’re interested in getting involved and helping us develop training resources for site visitors, please contact Robert Urofsky at rurofsky@cacrep.org.

Ongoing Training and Updates for Site Visitors (pt. 2):
CACREP has traditionally piggybacked on annual conferences and meetings to offer ongoing training and updates for site visitors. But as the counseling profession has grown, so too has the number of conferences and meetings.

The upshot is that face-to-face conference sessions aren’t the best way for CACREP to connect with most of our site visitors anymore. Staff and Board members, of course, will still regularly attend conferences and meetings to hold training sessions, but we’re working on other tools to give you the information you need.

The Visitor is one of those tools – developed to provide critical updates to all site visitors on a regular basis. This issue (our third!) includes a great article from Dr. Amy Milsom on how to develop a site team report and recommendation.  We also want to update and expand our directory of site visitors, and we need your help. All current site visitors need to update their info by clicking here.

Feedback for Site Visitors:
CACREP’s evaluation forms for site visitors are now online, for easier distribution and data collection. Those include the Site Visit Team Evaluation Form, completed by representatives from the host institution, and the Fellow Team Member Evaluation Form, completed by each site visitor following a visit.  The CACREP Board has also been evaluating site teams’ reports and recommendations.

The CACREP Staff are working on how best to disseminate the Board’s feedback to site visitors, so you can have a sense of strengths and areas for improvement. These evaluations will also inform our work as we develop training resources and expand our directory of site visitors.

We look forward to continuing to expand these and other interactions between CACREP and CACREP site visitors in the future.