Recently, I noticed a green “Accredited School” emblem on the top of a local high school’s letterhead, which made me wonder – what exactly is school accreditation and who and what isinvolved in the process?
I know that the Northwest Educational Service District (NWESD) happens to be the lead agency for statewide accreditation, a role they assumed in 2014. So, I took my questions to the expert staff there: David Forsythe, Assistant Supt. of Operations and Krista Johnsen, AESD Accreditation Assistant.
What I learned from Krista and David is that the agency called the Association of Educational Service Districts (AESD), which includes all nine Educational Service Districts (ESDs) of Washington, officially runs the program that accredits Washington State high schools (including private, public, or tribal compact schools) through which they can attain their accredited status for a six-year cycle.
The accreditation process is a voluntary, research-based, self-study process that helps schools motivate their staff to undertake needed changes in the instructional programs and delivery in connection to School Improvement Plans (SIPs). And what that all boils down to is that the AESD accreditation process helps guide schools and motivates staff to undertake needed changes in the instructional programs and delivery for work schools are already undertaking to improve teaching and learning as well as climate and culture.
Krista explained to me that last year, she and the AESD Accreditation State Coordinator, along with 11 accreditation coaches, worked with forty-nine schools (28 initial/renewal and 21 third-year reviews) throughout WA state, who were granted AESD Accreditation upon confirmation by a panel of volunteer ESD Board members. There is a lot of tracking, coaching and reflective study involved with a school getting accredited. For example, during the 2016/17 school year cycle, 28 panels were conducted by 17 volunteer ESD board members over four days!
David pointed out that Washington State school accreditation began to ensure that the state’s high schools were adequately preparing students for college. The intent is to document high program quality for colleges and the patrons of Washington’s educational system. It is now open to all grade levels and is a voluntary, self-study process that is a research-based approach to school improvement.
The accreditation process supports a long-term vision for a performance-based education system that aligns accreditation requirements to the continuous improvement of student learning, achievement,and growth. The process provides for collaboration and deep reflection by the school community, for external review and validation of the school improvement plan, and the process that led to its development. It also provides a statement of accountability to the public.
The six steps for accreditation, which is part of a cycle of inquiry, action, and improvements, are:
- Getting ready
- Identifying issues & collecting data
- Analyzing data, determining needs and setting goals
- Reviewing research base and determining realistic solutions
- Creating a data-informed and achievement-focused plan
- Continuous monitoring and adjusting.