Finding Solutions to Common ARC-PA Citations – Volume 4: What does the Commission want?

scott's thoughts Nov 07, 2023

Today’s blog continues our dive into Standard C1.03 and the reasons why it is the most-cited of all ARC-PA Standards. Thus far in our blog series, we’ve just managed to unpack the voluminous information that the completion of an SSR demands.

However, if the regurgitation of information was all that an SSR required of a PA program, we’d find ourselves under far less scrutiny and subject to far fewer citations. Rather, the Commission wants PA programs to provide thorough data, decipher it, and turn it into viable (and triangulated) reasoning and action plans. Don’t worry! These are all subjects that this blog series will cover. So, let’s forge ahead to look at the ARC-PA’s directions and how we can best comply with them in creating our Self Study Reports.

Use ARC-PA language

The first thing I’ll recommend is that you, and your staff, adopt the language of the Commission. Use their words, and fewer misunderstandings will result. Employ terminology directly from the Standards upon which the SSR requirements are based, referring to their glossary as needed. You may believe you have answered questions flawlessly, but if your terminology does not align with theirs, it can result in confusion – and observations on your SSR. You’ll also find that getting into the habit of using the ARC-PA’s terminology, particularly with your staff, will help immensely when the time comes for site visits.

The glossary definitions must be evident in the language of program competencies, program learning outcomes, and instructional objectives.

Make sure you crosswalk the glossary definitions with program-specific language, such as the consistent usage of terms in course syllabi. I’ve seen programs get citations if they don’t use the glossary definitions, such as “competencies.” When discussing your competencies, you must include all the aspects of the ARC-PA’s definition, or your response will be inadequate.

Examining the Self Study Report Template

There are four “Key elements of Analysis” that must be demonstrated within your SSR.

Of course, we understand that data must be collected. However, the analysis, and application of the analysis, is an elusive piece of this puzzle. We must not simply discuss, but also document. We must create a link between analysis and conclusions.

  1.    The first element is the regular and ongoing collection of data. For ease of use and interpretation, the collected quantitative and qualitative data must be clearly displayed in tables and charts.
  2.   The second element is the analysis of data. This includes discussing and interpreting the correlations and trends relating the data to the expectations or issues of the program. This is to be demonstrated by succinctly written narratives that highlight the correlations, relationships, and trends
  3.   The third element is the application of results and the development of conclusions based on a study of the data. These must be succinctly stated, showing the link between analysis and conclusions. This includes the identification of strengths as well as areas in need of improvement.
  4.   The fourth element is the development of an action plan to operationalize the conclusions. Action plans, too, must be succinctly stated and should logically result from the conclusions drawn from critical analysis of data. In an SSR, what I always try to do is summarize every action plan in the narrative, so the reviewer can see it very clearly.

ARC-PA Expectations – from the source

The following points were presented at an SSR workshop during Summer 2023. This is a copy of a slide presented by ARC-PA; I’m sharing it because this is the checklist that the reviewers use to look at your SSR.

You may have noticed that these instructions note elements that are somewhat confusing. Reviewers are looking for data triangulation, and the triangulation of data means looking for data that connects across multiple appendices and reflecting that in action plans. Presenting data in that way is not an easy thing to do, or at least not without practice or learning to think in terms of what a reviewer expects to see. This is something we will also discuss in more depth in future blogs, as triangulation of data is a required factor throughout the SSR.

In our next blog…

With all of this to consider, I invite you to join me in my next blog, in which I will share many of the common mistakes and “trouble areas” that I see arising in PA programs SSRs. Knowing ahead of time will help you avoid these errors and direct your SSR to align with what the Commission’s reviewers expect from you. See you then!


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