Accreditation, Accountability, and Continuous Improvement
Accreditation, Accountability, and Continuous Improvement
- The Context. School and district profiles are prepared by assembling a host of data related to student and teacher demographics, student achievement, instructional and student support programs, and more. The profiles are living documents, serving as the basis for ongoing self-assessment.
- The Internal Analysis. District and school leaders work together with stakeholders to conduct a self-assessment based on substantive standards. The institution rates its performance on each standard using a set of established rubrics, based on a comprehensive collection, synthesis and analysis of multiple sources of data and best practices, including test scores. Additionally, district and school leaders use diagnostic tools to analyze student performance data and stakeholder perception data.
- The External Review. At least once every five years, AdvancED provides a more rigorous and impartial assessment of district and school performance through an external review conducted by professionals from within and outside of the institution’s state. The external review includes school site-visits; classroom observations; an in-depth analysis of evidence and data related to the performance of the institution; and interviews with central office staff, school board members, parents, school administrators and teachers, business leaders, and community members.
- The Diagnostic Review. Using the results of the review process, district and school leaders work together to discover patterns in their data, refute inaccurate assumptions, and move beyond the obvious to focus on the root causes associated with performance. Through this process, districts and schools gain a better understanding of their current reality so they may confidently build research-based plans that define actions to be implemented for better results in the future.
- The Continuous Improvement Cycle. Throughout the year, district and school leaders regularly monitor implementation of their improvement strategies, discuss and analyze what is or is not working, and make any necessary adjustments to the improvement plan. They also continuously collect data to inform the ongoing self-assessment.
Also beginning in 2012, schools and districts will be eligible to receive one of six accreditation classifications. Institutions that exceed expectations will be acknowledged with a special designation and those not meeting standards will receive appropriate designations based on the severity of the shortcomings and their capacity to improve. All institutions will, as always, be directed to implement at least one “required action” to support improvement, and all will provide progress reports at various intervals to ensure their commitment to continuous improvement. As a testament to the value that schools and districts see in the accreditation process, a recent survey of AdvancED schools and districts showed that one of the top three reasons they choose to be accredited is the impact the process has on student performance.
Integrating the Best of Both Systems
With millions of dollars invested annually in efforts to improve our education systems, it is a wonder that accreditation, with its long history of making a difference in the quality of teaching and learning, is not front and center in a state’s arsenal of school improvement tools. However, this may be changing. Diagnostic review is included in the key principles of next generation accountability proposed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and is part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization bill passed by the Senate education committee in October 2011. Although there currently exist redundancies in accountability and accreditation systems, these can easily be resolved and eliminated by a thoughtful alignment of the best of both.
In the state of Kentucky, for example, about half of all schools and a quarter of all districts voluntarily participate in the AdvancED accreditation process. In 2011, AdvancED and the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) signed a multi-year agreement designed to align the state’s accountability system with AdvancED’s continuous improvement model and to encourage more schools to become accredited. Through the use of a state-of-the-art web-based tool for collecting, analyzing, and reporting relevant data, all Kentucky schools now have access to AdvancED’s accreditation processes, and those who participate in accreditation will meet state reporting requirements without additional paperwork.
In Wyoming, all districts are required by the state to participate in AdvancED’s District Accreditation model and in Michigan, schools accredited by AdvancED also satisfy the state’s requirements for accreditation. In these states, the best practices associated with accreditation are being integrated into the state accountability model, resulting in a system that benefits from the best of both approaches to school improvement.
The Path Forward
Over the past decade, educators have learned many lessons while striving to meet ever more rigorous student achievement goals. The debate over defining the outcomes of a good education is resolving in favor of the need for every student to leave high school prepared for college or career. The Common Core State Standards, recently developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association, and already adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, make a strong case for the notion that, in the 21st century, all students must have the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in the global marketplace. This will not happen unless schools make dramatic improvements.