Montana Catholic Schools Weekly

December 7, 2014

What is Accreditation?

For many of our schools going through accreditation for the first time, it seems to be stress-inducing, confusing, regarded as irrelevant, not respected, and pushed to the side. Why?

Most professional organizations (i.e. architects, plumbers, doctors) have accreditation agencies. Catholic schools have developed a protocol for measuring schools that promotes a culture of self-improvement as well as standards which certify schools as excellent. WCEA (Western Catholic Education Association) is that protocol and organization which is the accreditation agency for the Catholic schools in California, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Guam.

Accreditation is a process that can be used to evaluate a school for areas of improvement as well as a chance to measure effectiveness against a set of national standards. The WCEA protocol is unique because it combines a focus on student learning with the Catholic identity of schools.

Accreditation is focused on continuous self-improvement so it lends itself to the question "How can we become better?" An attitude of continuous self-improvement lends itself to better teaching and learning.

Accreditation is a six-year self-improvement cycle. Here's an overview:

Year One: A school should undertake to engage, review and perhaps revise its mission statement and Schoolwide Learning Expectations (SLE's). On the Montana Catholic Schools website, I have posted great resources for reflection on mission statements as well as a "how to" video for developing SLEs.

Year Two: Self-study year. A school should study itself beginning with a survey of stakeholders and focus groups to study and write about the accomplishments and goals across different areas of the school. The administration will also compile information relevant to the process including the school's history, policies, etc. This process should be collaborative and transparent so that all stakeholders understand. At the end of this year, a self-study document should represent an accurate snapshot of the school.

Year Three: Visit year. A visiting team will read the school's self-study and review it in relation to their visit, which will include observations of learning, teaching, and meetings with a variety of stakeholders. The team is primarily concerned about student learning and Catholic identity.

Years Four-Six: The school will implement and monitor the goals identified by the school and confirmed by the visiting team.

Year Seven: Repeat while keeping the goals above. As a new self-study is developed, the previous goal should be acknowledged. As a school embarks on a new self-study, the standards for re-accreditation are a little more strenuous and the expectations higher.

The hope is that this process will lead to an enriched atmosphere of innovation and improvement in schools. The focus on the important goals of student learning and Catholic identity should lead schools to become better where it matters.

Dr. Tim Uhl

Superintendent's Schedule

Monday: office day (Helena)

Tuesday: All-School Mass in Butte; meetings in Butte

Wednesday: All-School Mass in Missoula; meetings in Missoula

Thursday: office day (Helena)

Friday: office day (Helena)

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This year: 15,767 miles

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