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Answers to commonly asked questions about Public High School Accreditation

What happens during the 10-year accreditation cycle?

In order to maintain accredited status and NEASC membership, schools must demonstrate — throughout the 10-year accreditation cycle — how they align their educational practice and vision with the Standards. The three main phases of the accreditation cycle are:

  1. a reflective 12-month self-study during which the school assesses the degree to which its educational programs, services, and processes align with the seven CPSS Standards;
  2. a four-day on-site evaluation visit conducted by a committee of peers from the professional educational community;
  3. a multi-year follow-up process, monitored regularly by the Commission on Public Schools, involving periodic reporting, long-term strategic planning, and a focus on school improvement.

During the on-site school evaluations, visiting teams tour facilities, engage in conversations with school communities, and review evidence provided by schools in order to determine the extent to which a school’s practices align with the Standards. Based on their observations, the visiting team writes an evaluation report identifying a school’s strengths and areas for growth. Using the report as a guide, schools must show their commitment to ongoing improvement by continual work toward refining the systems, processes, practices, and conditions that support and enhance student learning. 

Who makes the decision on a school’s accreditation status?

The entire 26-member Committee on Public Secondary Schools (CPSS) votes on the accreditation status for every school. Prior to this vote, each school’s evaluation report is reviewed by a 5-6 member CPSS subcommittee, the NEASC staff liaison assigned to the school, and also by the Director of the Commission on Public Schools. The staff member and Director provide input to the subcommittee, but the recommendation for accreditation is made solely by the subcommittee. Any special recommendations for a school (e.g., follow-up visits, warning, probation, termination, etc.) or requests by a school (e.g., postponements) are discussed at length by the entire Committee following a preliminary discussion by the subcommittee. The final recommended actions are framed and endorsed by a full vote of CPSS. Although NEASC staff members participate in discussions, they do not vote.

Who identifies the commendations and recommendations in a school's notification letter?

Directly following a school's 10-year evaluation visit, NEASC sends the school a notification letter to confirm continued accreditation or to relay any changes in status. Based on input from the evaluation team members who visited the school, the chair of the visiting team will highlight recommendations and commendations for the school in these letters. The individual CPSS member who is assigned to follow the school through the accreditation cycle may propose other recommendations, as may the other members of the CPSS subcommittee that reviews the decennial report. NEASC staff members may also suggest additional commendations and recommendations.

Notification letters folllowing Special, Two-Year, and Five-Year Reports may contain commendations and recommendations identified by the CPSS member assigned to that school with input from the CPSS subcommittee. NEASC staff members may add additional commendations and recommendations. 

If accreditation is unique for all schools, why are some recommendations in notification letters the same?

The vast majority of recommendations to which a school may be asked to respond over the 10-year accreditation cycle (decennial visit, Two-Year Progress Report, Five-Year Progress Report, and any requested Special Progress Reports) consist of recommendations specific to that school’s strengths and needs.

However, there are some recommendations which are included in notification letters to all schools. Those common recommendations tend to be formative and are intended to guide schools to a course of action that will provide for a smooth transition in aligning with the Standards. In all cases, however, each school responds in a fashion that best suits their own needs.

What happens when a school has a difficult time meeting one or more Standard?

Schools that are struggling to meet one or more Standard may be assigned a warning status or put on probation. A school can be placed on warning at any time, but the most common point in the 10-year accreditation cycle that schools receive warning status is immediately following the on-site accreditation team visit. Standards-related issues that a school is struggling with are revealed in the visiting team reports, and the Committee may give a warning to schools with multiple issues in order to assist with prioritizing their improvement efforts. Normally schools address the Committee's concerns within a relatively short period of time following the decennial visit and the warning status is removed. Schools that are put on probation typically have more complex problems that take a number of years and considerable resources to resolve. Probation is assigned when a school is unable to meet multiple Standards after being given the opportunity to do so. For more details regarding probation, please refer to specific CPS Committee policies.

“Warning” is not a public status; the list of schools on warning is in constant flux and is not published. 

“Probation” is a public status; schools which are currently on probation are indicated with an (*) on the online CPS school directory lists.

Why do schools need an accountability system like accreditation if they are already being held accountable to the state and to the federal government?

To varying extents, state and federal assessments and mandates deal with students achieving competency at some minimum level of achievement or at a particular grade level below the terminal grade. Similarly, to varying extents the assessments deal with averages and norms rather than with feedback specific to the needs of individual students. State and federal standards also do not begin to address areas outside of core academic areas and do not pay any attention to the civic and social domains which shape a significant part of our member schools’ endeavors.

Well beyond what is being requested by state and federal assessments, the NEASC Standards provide significant review of a school’s processes and practices related to teaching and learning and the support of teaching and learning. As such, accreditation is about the best practices of the educators in the schools and the support systems around them. Accreditation examines not only the work of the students but also examines the nature of the contributions of the school staff.

What does the term “school-wide learning expectations” mean?

This term refers to the observable and measurable skills that have been identified by a school as priority learning goals that it hopes to see manifested in all of its students. These learning expectations may be related to specific learning goals established by the state or may be the important learning goals of a given community. The realization of these school-wide learning expectations serves as the empirical proof that a school has been able to achieve the essential learnings identified in its mission statement.

Why do the Standards have such a strong emphasis on school-wide learning?

The emphasis on school-wide learning is designed to create an atmosphere in which all school personnel, regardless of their curriculum area or supportive role, take responsibility on a broad scale for creating an environment where students have the best opportunity to succeed in achieving the school-wide expectations.

There are a number of Indicators (the declarative statements that help to define the individual Standards) that point the school’s curriculum in the direction of integration of learning, emphasis on depth over breadth, and the coordination of curriculum among all academic areas. A number of the Indicators also relate to student achievement of school-wide learning expectations or require procedures and a school organization that encourages and creates opportunities for reflection, collegiality, common planning time, and collaboration across the entire school community. These Indicators have been developed in response to identified “best practices.” In other words, if these events are happening in a school, student achievement is probably occurring at a high level because research tells schools that these practices work. 

Can schools have discipline-specific school-wide learning expectations?

Yes, they may as long as they are expected of or apply to each student in the school. For example, a school can have a school-wide learning expectation in the area of mathematics, art, or foreign language as long as all students in the school are expected to take enough courses in those areas to develop skills to achieve the school-wide learning expectations.

Why does the Commission expect schools to have local assessment processes to determine student achievement of school-wide learning expectations? Why can’t achievement of such expectations be measured by performance on standardized tests?

There are two modes of standardized tests. The most prevalent at present are state mandated (e.g., MCAS, CAPT, NECAP, PARC) tests. For the most part these tests are limited in scope, either by a finite range of curriculum areas (English/Language Arts or mathematics, for example) and/or are based on mastery of skills at a level well below what schools establish as their own targeted requirements. The use of nationally normed examinations (Stanfords, ERBs, SATs, APs) does not always provide an accurate picture of where individual students are on the learning curve nor does it define what students must do to remedy their shortcomings. Additionally, such nationally normed exams are not necessarily aligned with the particular curriculum in place at a given school. Well-designed local assessments are aligned with local (as well as state) standards and provide data specific to the needs of each individual student. There is a movement in some states toward holistic requirements such as senior projects, capstone projects, portfolios, etc., which would encompass simultaneously an assessment of a broad range of student competencies and yet be adaptable to the needs of specific students.

Why does the Commission want schools to assess the achievement of school-wide learning expectations with rubrics?

The use of school-wide rubrics to assess the level of achievement of a school’s targeted and valued skills ensures that students and their parents know what is expected of them and know what they need to do to improve. When students have multiple opportunities across the content areas and/or across courses to practice and achieve the school’s expectations for achievement, they can see incremental progress. In many instances they can see the connections across the disciplines, an important aspect of improved learning. In addition, teachers can adjust their curriculum and their instructional strategies as they use the rubrics to assess the achievement of the school’s essential learnings.

Why can’t the achievement of the school-wide learning expectations be assessed simply with course grades?

Course letter grades provide little information to a student or a parent about how to improve, and usually do not provide enough useful information to teachers for them to make decisions about instructional strategies.

Why is it important that a rubric be school-wide?

The phrase “school-wide rubric” means that an established rubric will be used to assess the learning demonstrated by all students in the school. In the case of a school-wide learning expectation that cuts across a number of disciplines, such as writing, the use of the same rubric to assess writing skills across the school’s curriculum – by the English teacher who teaches students how to improve their writing, by the science teacher who asks students to demonstrate effective writing in a lab report, and by the social studies teacher who asks students to apply writing skills as they discuss political primaries and caucuses – serves to ensure the consistent reinforcement of skills across a number of disciplines. In the case of a school-wide learning expectation that is by its nature specific to a particular discipline or just a few disciplines, such as the demonstration of scientific thinking, fluency in a foreign language, or mathematical reasoning, the use of the same rubric to monitor and assess the achievement of identified skills ensures that all students will have a shared understanding of the concepts and quality of learning expected of them.

Do the Standards require that schools be totally heterogeneously grouped?

The Standards do not mandate grouping patterns, specifically heterogeneous, for schools. The extent to which a school is heterogeneously/homogeneously grouped is largely a local decision. There are an unlimited number of grouping permutations being practiced by accredited member schools. For example, some accredited schools that group exclusively heterogeneously; others group academic core subjects homogeneously but group electives heterogeneously. Nevertheless, the CPSS Standards do clearly encourage heterogeneous grouping as a method of ensuring high standards for all students and equal opportunity for all students to be engaged in a rigorous curriculum. Please refer to 2011 Standard #5, Indicator 2.

Do the Standards require that schools have advisor/advisee programs?

The Standards do not mandate a particular model for ensuring the personalization of a student’s educational experience. Schools do not have to have an advisor-advisee program. However, they must develop and employ strategies to ensure that all students are well known by an adult member of the school community. This emphasis on personalization is a theme that runs throughout the Standards. There are a number of accredited schools that have formal advisor/advisee programs. Additionally, some schools provide the required personalization through a teaming model either through career academies or clusters. Some schools have developed smaller learning communities (SLCs) that provide a built-in structure for personalization. Some schools provide structured time for small group meetings between staff members and groups of students. Member schools have been creative in trying to meet the goal of personalizing the educational process for their students and ensuring that all students are known well. Please refer to 2011 Standard #5, Indicator 3.

Where can I go for help if I don’t understand something in the Standards?

Each school is assigned a professional staff liaison from the Commission on Public Schools. The assigned staff member can respond to any and all questions. They often visit with schools experiencing difficulty and can be reached by phone or email. If the assigned Commission staff member is not readily available, another staff member can usually provide a ready response.