Accreditation: why it matters
April 24, 2009
You may have heard that both Treasure Mountain International School (TMIS) and Park City High School (PCHS) recently renewed their state accreditation, but chances are you’re not sure what exactly that means or why it’s important.
According to the Utah.gov website, "Accreditation means formal approval of a school that has met standards considered by the Board to be essential for the operation of a quality school program."
In layman’s terms, please? Basically, accreditation ensures that all schools are held to the same standards and that the credits a student earns toward high school graduation are legitimate.
So who decides which standards constitute a quality education? The regional accrediting association for Utah is the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools (NAAS). The NAAS provides a list of criteria that schools need to meet in order to be approved.
Accreditation is required for all Utah secondary schools that offer credits toward high school diplomas. Middle schools with ninth grades (such as TMIS) must be accredited by the Utah State Office of Education (USOE) using NAAS standards. To maintain accreditation, a school must have a complete evaluation and site visit at least once every six years.
TMIS was due for its first accreditation site visit in January, but the process began long before that, explains Principal Bob O’Connor. The faculty spent the past couple years preparing two massive documents to present to the accreditation committee. The first contained the administrative component, including the school profile, mission and belief statements, personnel profiles, student demographics and testing information.
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The second compiled surveys, statistics, evidence and results of self-studies compiled by focus groups made up of faculty members. It was up to each group to identify their strengths, challenges and areas for improvement, explains Heidi Matthews, school librarian and appointed editor of the documents. "The extent of it was pretty astounding to me — I came away from this process with such appreciation for the faculty," she says.
During the site visit, the state committee took time to sit in on classes and interview students, teachers and parents. "They were especially impressed with the level of conversations and discussions in classrooms," says O’Connor. The committee also lauded the school’s commitment to creating opportunities for faculty collaboration without affecting instructional time.
"We know this is a good school, but the challenge was to prove it, document it, and collate it into something the committee could understand," says O’Connor. "But the process in itself was beneficial. We uncovered some things we do need to improve."
TMIS also received authorization from the International Baccalaureate last spring to become an IB World School offering the Middle Years Program. This merit, gained through another intensive process, distinguishes the education at Treasure Mountain as comparable to top schools on an international level.
"We’ve been held accountable to two different standards — international and state," says O’Connor. "One of the things I got out of this whole process is the reassurance that we’re doing a great job of preparing students for high school and beyond."
PCHS was also approved for 6-year accreditation in late March. According to Vice Principal Dave McNaughtan, the review committee was pleased with how far the school had come since its last accreditation site visit. "Three years ago, we did not score very well," he explains. "They were amazed at the transformation and what we are doing here." McNaughtan notes that the committee seemed especially impressed by the sense of community and collaboration within the school.
Park City Academy will receive its accreditation visit from the Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools next week. "It allows people to know that the school meets national standards for independent schools that are continually being updated and refined," says Susan Radtke, the school’s assistant head for external affairs. "It’s a rigorous process, and it’s something we’ve been working toward for two years."
Other schools in Summit County are on different schedules regarding accreditation. North Summit High School will be reevaluated in 2009-10, South Summit High School in 2011-12, and South Summit Middle School in 2010-11.