By Henry Cram, Ed.D.
As president of the Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS), I am often asked about the differences among the accrediting agencies that schools can choose when considering accreditation. Each of the accrediting bodies uses a similar process, including the requirement to meet standards, conduct a self-study and undergo a peer review visit. Each bases its standards and protocol requirements on similar research on effective schools and school improvement, and most are comparable in terms of accreditation maintenance and costs.
So how should a school choose an accrediting agency? Is it as simple as doing what has been traditionally done? Or are there differences among the agencies that make one accrediting option a better fit for each school?
Schools are diverse, and any accreditation process should address that diversity to meet the unique qualities that make every school special. Simply put, “one size should not fit all” when it comes to accreditation.
While the standards for accreditation and the requirements of an accreditation protocol need to be rigorous, accreditation can be achieved in a variety of ways. Not every school starts in the same place. Nor does every school need to do things exactly the same way in order to improve student performance or organizational capacity. A school should choose an accreditation protocol that is the best fit whether it is seeking to improve performance, build on that performance or push beyond a tradition of excellence.
Accreditation should improve every school’s capacity by deepening the understanding of what needs to be done to increase student performance and by establishing a culture of continuous school improvement. Furthermore, each successive re-accreditation should build on lessons learned from the previous term.
An accreditation process should also offer the opportunity for schools to achieve special recognition for exemplary programs. Whether it is recognition of an exceptional program in the arts or an innovative one in STEM education, accreditation should promote the identification of exemplary programs and highlight best practices that can be shared among the accrediting agency’s membership.
The best accreditation processes lead to valid and reliable results as well as recommendations for change and strategic plans for improvement. These recommendations, resulting from a peer review process, should be reviewed and vetted by experts who can provide context and perspective when determining a school’s final accreditation status. Maintaining quality control and ensuring consistency are critical to the integrity of the accreditation process.
Responsible accreditors learn and continue to learn from their experiences with schools. They use that knowledge to help every school find the correct path to accreditation. The process is a learning experience resulting in outcomes that match each school’s reason for seeking accreditation.
Whether your school is considering becoming accredited for the first time or is seeking re-accreditation, accreditation is a choice. To make the most of that choice, choose an accreditation protocol:
That best meets your school’s needs,
That will lead to the outcomes you are seeking, and
That is available from an accrediting agency with a reputation for quality and value.
That’s the best way to have accreditation your way.
For information on the Middle States Association’s accreditation and program options, quality assurance and value, visit www.MSA-CESS.org
The Middle States Association Commissions on Elementary and Secondary Schools is a worldwide leader in accreditation and school improvement. For over 125 years, Middle States has been helping school leaders establish and reach their goals, develop strategic plans, promote staff development and advance student achievement. With more than 2,700 accredited schools and school systems in 34 states and nearly 100 countries, MSA-CESS is proud of its continuing legacy and its ongoing innovations to meet the challenges of improving education in the 21st century.