CEO’S CORNER: NAILING DOWN THE STANDARDS DETAILS
Dianne M. Cearlock, PhD, Chief Executive Officer
This is the year that NAACLS is transitioning to implementation of the 2012 Standards. Although it has been two years since the NAACLS Board of Directors adopted the new Standards, questions about interpretation of the Standards, what constitutes adequate documentation of compliance, setting appropriate benchmarks for outcomes, and other details emerge. Language, spoken or written, is a tricky business, and it is important to nail down the details. Questions are posed by program officials, NAACLS review committee and Board members, and staff. Several examples were deliberated at the Board of Directors meeting held recently.
One example is found in the interpretation of one of NAACLS’ requirements for reporting student and program outcomes. The benchmark for graduation rates as currently described in the Standards Compliance Guide is “three years consecutive results of graduation rates demonstrating an average of at least 70% of students who have begun the final half of the program go on to successfully graduate from the program as calculated by the most recent three year period.” NAACLS recently received a question from a program official asking the definition of “final half.” For NAACLS, there is not a “one size fits all” response. With over 600 accredited and approved programs representing nine clinical laboratory professions there is an amazing diversity of curricular designs employed. Program sponsors may be universities, hospitals or medical centers, consortia and more. Some are delivered traditionally, some through internet technology, and some as hybrids of both delivery modes. Program lengths vary by the discipline, degree or certificates awarded upon completion, length of clinical experiences and other factors. Some programs concentrate the discipline-specific components in the latter phases of the program while others distribute these components throughout the entire program duration. Clearly, a “one size fits all” strategy does not suffice for all of NAACLS’ programs. Following significant discussion by NAACLS volunteers and staff, the Board chooses to allow programs, when submitting graduation rates, to describe the structure of the program and how the “final half” of the program is determined. This decision, which will be represented by revisions in the Standard Compliance Guide, is consistent with the Board’s continued commitment to fostering innovation and valuing each program’s mission to the particular community it serves.
Another example of the details about implementing the 2012 Standards concerns outcome measures reported by program graduates and their employers. Several program officials and review committee members identified a potential problem with the Standards Guide to Compliance, Standard II, Accompanying Documentation for Self-Study, section B1. This section deals with examples of tools used to collect data for outcome measures and listed graduate surveys and employer surveys. That seems straightforward. However, it was pointed out that, in essence, the language directed programs to collect data by use of surveys and did not appear to allow other options for collection of these data. For some programs, surveys may be useful for collection of these data but a number of comments focused on problems with this method including the tendency for them to produce poor response rates. Other methods, such as focus groups, may produce better data. Therefore, the Board adopted a change of language from graduate and employer “surveys” to “feedback.” This change clarifies that programs have several methodological options for collecting these important data.
A third example of nailing down the details involves NAACLS’ requirements for program officials at multi-location sponsored programs. In the “old” Standards, Consortia Education Coordinators were required for consortia and multi-location sponsored programs; one at each participating site. Recently, during the review of a multi-location program using the “old” standards, a question emerged as to the interpretation of “one at each participating site.” It was unclear to review committee members as to whether a Consortium Education Coordinator needed to be physically “at” each site and, if so, for what amount of time. The Board of Directors discussed these questions and clarified that the amount of time a coordinator spends physically at a program location is more appropriately determined by the needs of the program, its students and faculty, and modes of communication used including email, text messages, Facetime, Skype, and more. Again, the Board acknowledges the unique nature of each program, its mission and the community it serves and fosters creativity in education delivery. The 2012 Standards now call for a Site Program Coordinator to be “assigned” for all participating locations of multi-location programs.
Questions regarding the interpretation of the Standards come to NAACLS from many sources including program officials, review committee and Board members, and staff. The Board makes policy decisions when questions about these details emerge and does so using some guiding principles that are implicit in the NAACLS mission and vision. Part of NAACLS mission states that “NAACLS provides leadership in fostering innovative educational approaches.” To the extent possible, NAACLS nails down the details in a manner consistent with leadership in innovation.