WASC’s primary goal is encouraging the self-improvement of schools that leads to greater student learning.
G.E. Thompson Chair of WASC Committee
WASC is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. It is one of six regional associations in the United States that grant institutional accreditation based on a comprehensive self-study prepared by the school followed by an on-site evaluation of the programs and services of the total institution. The on-site evaluations are done by teams of educators selected from the schools that are served and who contribute their services to promote the welfare, interests and development of the schools.
The primary goal of evaluation and accreditation is the self-improvement of the school.
The accreditation process has three stages: the self-study, the visit, and the follow-up. A school's philosophy and the WASC high quality criteria of an effective educational program serve as the underlying bases for these stages.
The entire staff and representatives of the student body and community are involved in the preparation of the self-study which is accomplished over a period of several months.. During this phase,all staff members candidly assess the school's strengths and areas needing improvement with respect to the criteria.
In the self-study process collecting information is critical to learning about the actual instruction experienced by students. It is a valuable confirmation on opinions and is essential if the committee's conclusions are to be more than speculation. Methods of collecting information include:
Working through numerous committees, staff members meet and discuss all the collected verifying information and perceptions. The results of these discussions are the foundation for the written part of the self-study, the starting point for dialogue with the Visiting Committee, and the beginning of the improvement process. Efforts are made to identify root causes of problems, especially those within the school/subject area's control to improve within existing resources; this is key to a meaningful self-study.
- observing the lessons teachers are delivering and the nature of student participation in classroom activities
- interviewing students about their courses of study
- accompanying students during all or part of a typical school day
- examining regularly used instructional materials and teachers' lesson plans
- reviewing samples of student work
- reviewing school documents; e.g., student records, course offerings, statement of goals and objectives, procedures, minutes of meetings of faculty, departments, student government, etc.
- discussing issues with staff, students, and parents
- reviewing the General Data
- reviewing results of the Student and Parent/Community Questionnaires
The committees summarize their findings of this in-depth assessment based upon the school's philosophy, schoolwide learning expectations and the WASC criteria. They identify major strengths and areas for improvement.
The subject area committees develop and write a step-by-step action plan for identified priority areas for improvement. All action plans include:
As the report sections are completed, all committee members critique the Self-Study Report sections with respect to the following critical questions:
- a statement of the areas of improvement
- specific steps that will be taken
- who will be involved with each step
- a timeline for accomplishment of each step
- ways to assess progress
- Does the report address all the important ideas of the designated criteria?
- Was appropriate information collected to verify findings?
- Was the comparison done with respect to evidence of student learning and success?
- Are the major areas for improvement reflecting needs that can be addressed within existing resources?
After reviewing the Self-Study Report sections for schoolwide trends and areas for improvement, the Leadership Team/Steering Committee identifies and summarizes the schoolwide major strengths and areas for improvement and potential action steps. At least four weeks prior to the visit, this completed Self-Study Report is shared with members of a Visiting Committee,all staff and school community members, and the Accrediting Commission.
Full Self-Study Visit
The Visiting Committee is usually composed of three to eight people,one of whom is the chairperson. A typical Visiting Committee is composed of a school principal, a district office administrator, a classroom teacher,a school administrator other than a principal, a representative of a college or university, plus additional members who may be representatives of a state department of education, a county office, or a school board. A student maybe added to the committee at the request of the school principal.
After analyzing the self-study report the Visiting Committee spends three and one-half days at the school to provide an outside perspective on the quality of the curricular and instructional program provided for students. The visiting team members confer separately with each school committee, observe the school in operation, visit classes, and dialogue with individual administrators, teachers, students and others. Then the Visiting Committee prepares a report for the school, which commends the school for its strengths and recommends areas which should receive attention prior to the next visit.
After this Visiting Committee Report is discussed with the school Leadership Team/Steering Committee and shared with the entire staff, it is formally submitted to the school and the Commission. The Visiting Committee also recommends a term of accreditation based upon the school's philosophy, the WASC criteria, the self-study, and findings during the visit.
The term of accreditation is based in part upon the appropriateness of the school's stated purpose for an institution of its type and the degree to which it is being met. The other determinant for accreditation is the degree to which the school meets the WASC criteria that are guidelines for an effective educational program.
The Commission also takes into consideration the following: the degree to which the school addressed recommendations of the last Visiting Committee, the degree of involvement of all school community members in the self-study process, and the validity of the school-wide action plan.
The cycle of self-study, visit and follow-up is normally repeated every six years, a full term. Specifically the Visiting Committee's confidential recommendation to the School's Commission is one of the terms listed below:
- A term of six years with a written Progress Report to the school's governing board on the major recommendations listed in the Visiting Committee Report. Upon review and formal acceptance by the board, the report will be filed with the WASC office.
- A term of six years with a complete Progress Report on major recommendations and a one day on-site Review by a two member committee to be completed not later than the third year of the six year term.
- A term of three years with a full self-study and on-site visit during the third year.
- A term of one or two years with a complete Progress Report and Revisit to serve as a "warning" that, unless prompt attention is given to the major recommendations, accreditation may be denied.
- Denial of accreditation based on conditions detailed in the Visiting Committee Report.