Accrediting agencies are the entities that hold colleges accountable. Two of the issues that the accreditation process investigates are learner readiness and academic integrity. In this blog, we are going to take a look at the topic of how accrediting agencies make sure distance learning programs do foster learner readiness and academic integrity.

Watch this short video to learn more, or continue scrolling to read the video overview blog. 

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Video Overview

What is Accreditation? 

If you are viewing this blog as a student or maybe someone who is new to working in the higher education environment, first let me provide some context about accreditation.

When a school is accredited, this means that their programs and services have been reviewed by an external organization to make sure that they are providing a quality educational experience. Think of it as an IRS audit followed by a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. The accreditation process is very thorough and time-consuming for an institution. There are literally hundreds of rules or standards that an institution must document how they are in compliance.

In this blog, we are going to focus on those rules of one accrediting body, the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, known as ACCSC. As the name of that accrediting agency implies, there are different accrediting agencies for different types of schools. I will say more about that later in this blog as we review the standards of multiple agencies.

How Can a School Make Sure Students are Ready to Learn and Demonstrate Academic Integrity?

An accreditation review is comprehensive, covering all aspects of higher education ranging from student admissions to faculty requirements. While there are hundreds of topics for which the ACCSC has standards, this blog is focusing on two of them — learner readiness and academic integrity.

What does the accrediting agency require regarding these topics and how can a school meet the requirements in a way that can be documented? How is possible for a school to make sure that learners are ready to learn and that they demonstrate academic integrity as they document their mastery of course content?

The Required Standard for Learner Readiness

Of all the accrediting agencies, the ACCSC has the clearest guidelines on learner readiness for distance learning students. The standards state:

The school must establish an admissions process for distance education programs and courses of study that includes the following:

(A) An assessment of the student’s technical skills, competencies, and access to technology necessary to succeed in a distance education environment prior to their enrollment in the program or course of study, and

(B) An assessment of the student’s capability to benefit from enrolling in a distance education program prior to enrollment. The school must utilize an assessment tool (e.g., test, preparation/ orientation course, etc.) to determine if the student’s learning style is conducive to online learning.

These items are followed by “The school must demonstrate the validity and reliability of the assessment tools used to assess a student’s readiness for distance education online learning minimally using engagement surveys, academic progress, and student achievement data.

Measuring Learner Readiness with SmarterMeasure

I have great news for you. The SmarterMeasure Learning Readiness Indicator is an awesome tool for meeting and documenting compliance with these standards. The assessment does measure all the listed required variables: technical skills, competencies, technology access, and preferred learning style.

The assessment also measures an applicant’s capability to benefit from enrolling in a distance education program.

Finally, SmarterMeasure is a deeply valid and reliable assessment that has been used by over 1,000 higher education institutions and taken by over six million students. The data and reports generated by SmarterMeasure are strong documentation of how a school is in compliance with these standards.

SmarterMeasure Demo

The Required Standard for Testing Integrity

Next, what does the ACCSC require regarding testing integrity? The standard states “Student assessment approaches must be documented for each course or program offered and are designed and implemented in a valid, reliable, fair, and where relevant, flexible manner.”

Two of the four required elements of an assessment strategy are that it must be fair and flexible. How can a school achieve and document this?

Again, I have good news for you. The SmarterProctoring Proctoring Management System is a platform that can be used to demonstrate and document that assessments are provided in a fair and flexible manner. SmarterProctoring is the only proctoring solution that provides a full spectrum of proctoring modalities including three face-to-face options, three virtual options, and one hybrid option.

For an assessment to be fair, the assessment itself must be parallel for all learners, but the context in which it is given can be flexible. For example, a final exam on College Algebra must measure the same mathematical constructs for all students. However, for learners who have a documented learning disability in math accommodations may need to be made. The accommodations may best be made in a face-to-face testing environment. SmarterProctoring gives your students all seven proctoring modality options so that the exam can be securely administered in an environment that is fair and flexible.

Manage and Administer Proctored Exams

The Required Standard for Learner Authentication

Related to the testing environment being fair and flexible is another requirement to make sure that the person taking the test is the actual student. The standard states “The school uses effective practices to verify that the student who registers in a distance education course or program is the same student who participates in and completes the course or program and receives the academic credit. (e.g. secure login and/or passcode, proctored examinations, student identity technologies.”

As you might have guessed, again SmarterProctoring is a strong tool for meeting and documenting compliance with this standard. In all seven modalities offered by SmarterProctoring, the test taker is required to present official verification of identity before they can start the test. The artificial intelligence utilized in all virtual and hybrid proctoring modalities ensures that the person who is authenticated and starts the test is the person who completes the entire exam.

Hybrid Virtual Proctoring Fact Sheet

Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)

While this blog has focused on the ACCSC, most other accrediting bodies have similar standards, criteria, and requirements related to learner readiness and testing integrity. Let’s briefly take a look at standards from these other accrediting organizations.

Alphabetically first is the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS). They require schools to have a policy specific to academic integrity expectations and also approve of proctored exams as a form of learner authentication.

CREAD — Inter-American Non-Profit Distance Education Consortium 

The Inter-American Non-Profit Distance Education Consortium requires schools to measure and counsel students regarding their motivation, commitment, technology skills, and equipment access.

Distance Education Accrediting Commission

The Distance Education Accrediting Commission requires schools to determine if a student is reasonably capable of successfully completing and benefiting from a distance education program before they can be admitted.

They also require specific policies related to student integrity and academic dishonesty. They approve of proctoring and require proctors to require government-issued photo identification.

Higher Learning Commission (HLC)

The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) requires schools to provide a student service that measures a student’s needs and determines if they are adequately prepared. One required student service is academic advising. Advisors at many schools utilize SmarterMeasure data to help students understand their strengths and opportunities for growth.

The HLC also requires schools to measure and analyze retention, persistence, and completion data such as that collected by SmarterMeasure and then use that data to make programmatic improvements.

North American Council for Online Learning

The North American Council for Online Learning requires schools to assess student readiness for course content and method of delivery.

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

Finally, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools published a Distance Education Policy Statement which requires schools to determine if students have access to and can use instructional technology.

They also require learner authentication and approve of proctoring as a means of verifying student identity.

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If your school is preparing for an upcoming accreditation review and/or if your institution is seeking to improve its distance learning services, reach out to us and allow us to show you how SmarterMeasure and SmarterProctoring can effectively meet these standards and provide a meaningful learning and testing experience for your students.

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