Friday, January 29, 2016

NEASC Information from the Massachusetts Secondary Schools Administrators’ Association

The letter below is from the Massachusetts Secondary Schools Administrators’ Association (MSSAA).  I think it reflects well on Burlington High School and our efforts over the last four years to improve our upcoming accreditation process with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Burlington, with Reading, and many other districts, have been leaders in this re-alignment effort.  We have great things happening at Burlington High School - we welcome the opportunity to highlight and share our best practices and look forward to the school improvement efforts that come out of the accreditation process.

Please stay tuned to this blog.  It is a great source for information regarding our effort with the NEASC process and other happenings at Burlington High School.

Dear MSSAA Colleagues,

As NEASC embarks on the final stages of the accreditation reform process (reviewing the standards and piloting fundamentally revised protocols), I want to update you on its progress. This past summer, the Commission on Public Secondary Schools endorsed the recommendations of the Self-study Revision Committee, and directed NEASC staff to translate the core principles into specific protocols. At the same time, two districts (Burlington and Reading) that have played a role in highlighting the need for reform, will be piloting the new process.

In a presentation to the MASC/MASS conference last fall, NEASC's new Commission on Public Secondary Schools director, George Edwards, shared the following core tenets and overarching ideas for the new accreditation
process:

Core Tenets
The self-assessment process
• ensures a growth-oriented and inquiry-based process
• allows for capacity building
• focuses on problem-solving
• allows for creativity and differentiation
• places emphasis on student learning outcomes

Overarching Ideas
The process will
• encourage continuous school improvement by allowing schools to
self-assess, set and work towards goals based on areas of need, and
receive feedback on attainment of their goals
• be geared towards helping schools create or maintain structures and
collaborative cultures for systemic learning and improvement for both
students and adults that result in sustainable change
• focus on the growth and development of the school
• support schools in developing manageable priorities that are
complementary to other initiatives or obligations
• encourage recommendations based on Standards and use the Indicators
as guides rather than prescriptions to meet the Standards

The philosophical shift that these principles reflect, I would describe as follows. Previously accreditation signified how well a school had met NEASC's standards and, where it fell short, how credible its process was for addressing a long list of corrective measures. Because the standards were excellent, the impetus to meet them often produced very positive results. But because it had evolved into an overly prescriptive process and a soup-to-nuts, all-consuming review that was often disconnected from the school's own improvement work, "compliance" rather than deep change often characterized the response. The new process recognizes that accreditation-worthy schools are works-in-progress, and that authentic and enduring improvement requires: one, work on a more focused set of self-selected strategic objectives; and two, a strong culture of (and structures to support) self-reflection, innovation and continuous adult learning.

Thus while the standards will continue to create the context for self-assessment and improvement, the focus will be on the school's priority improvement plans and on its ongoing capacity for examining data (self-assessing), identifying areas of need, and cultivating the creativity of its constituencies, all in the service of student learning.
Accreditation will be an iterative process involving an early-on self-assessment, the school's identification of its key school improvement goals (perhaps existing ones) and its plan for achieving them, a preconference with NEASC staff, and the visiting team will give targeted feedback on the implementation process, how well the plan helps the school meet key standards, and whether there are significant areas in need of attention that fall outside its school improvement plans.

At the same time, NEASC has made major strides towards streamlining the
work: an online portal for assembling evidence, crosswalks between the standards and state data collection demands, a much shorter self-assessment process and visit, etc.

I would like to acknowledge the responsive leadership that Cam Staples (NEASC CEO) and George Edwards have provided during these many months, and to the superintendents, principals, teachers, Committee on Public Secondary School members and NEASC staff who have dedicated innumerable hours to the reform process.

NEASC will be publishing more detailed descriptions of the pilot accreditation process in its forthcoming newsletters. Please stay tuned as we turn our attention to a review of the standards.

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