Does accreditation make a difference? Does it have an impact on schools and help them change? Does it contribute to a school’s efforts to improve itself? The answer is yes!
AdvancED recently commissioned a team of outside researchers to study this issue. The results are contained in a report (re: Learning From Accreditation), which was presented at the March 2009 AdvancED Conference in Chicago.
The researchers examined Standards Assessment Reports and Quality Assurance Review data from 2,171 schools that completed accreditation in 2007 or 2008. Survey data were collected additionally from 678 schools that finished Quality Assurance Reviews between January 2007 and June 2008. Phone interviews and additional follow-up survey data were collected from 25 of these 678 schools. Finally, more detailed case study information was collected from four schools, whose stories of success were highlighted in the report.
In summary, the researchers found that accreditation influences school improvement by:
- Prompting reflection on the school as a whole.
- Creating the opportunity for the school to function as a professional learning community.
- Generating unique data about the school, for use in school improvement.
- Clarifying and focusing the school’s improvement efforts around specific, targeted, measurable objectives.
- Encouraging “ownership” of the resulting school improvement plans.
It Starts With Self-Assessment
In the beginning stages of seeking accreditation, schools conduct a self-assessment and rate themselves on the seven AdvancED standards. The researchers looked closely at how the 2,171 schools rated themselves and discovered:
- Schools rated themselves the highest on the standards of Governance and Leadership and Resources and Support Systems.
- Schools rated themselves the lowest on Documenting and Using Results and Commitment to Continuous Improvement.
The researchers noted, however, an interesting face. Upon completion of accreditation, when these same schools were asked in what standards they experienced the most change as a result of accreditation, the standards in which the schools originally rated themselves lowest were the standards in which they reported having changed the most. Accreditation, therefore, clearly helped these schools identify areas of growth, which resulted in improvement and action plans to address these areas.
It Includes “External Eyes”
Within two years of completing the Standards Assessment Report, the school is visited by an external team from AdvancED. The external team reviews the school’s self-assessment and the evidence provided by the school, and develops its own report. The researchers examined the Quality Assurance Review reports from 678 schools to determine how closely the schools’ assessment of themselves compared to that of the external review teams that visited them near the end of the accreditation process.
Across the board, the Quality Assurance Review averages on the seven standards were lower than the Standard Assessment Report averages. It was clear that Quality Assurance Review teams, comprised of persons outside the school, were able to evaluate evidence, note areas of improvement, and “see the forest” a little more clearly than those immersed in the day-to-day complexity of school life. This, however, worked in the other direction as well. In many singular cases, Quality Assurance Review teams commended schools and rated them more highly than the schools did themselves on particular standards. Nevertheless, the Quality Assurance Review reports, in practically all cases, were instrumental in the schools developing specific, measurable school improvement goals that they would pursue.
It was clear from the research report that accreditation makes a difference in helping schools improve. The external review is particularly helpful in allowing schools to see themselves through a “different set of eyes.” Through both the Standards Assessment Report and Quality Assurance Review processes a school is guided to focus on both its areas of strength and weakness, enabling the school to set clear, targeted, measurable improvement goals that become not just the basis for maintaining accreditation but that become in themselves a continuous improvement process.