Accreditation is a process of peer evaluation which certifies that schools meet certain standards defined by independent entities, such as the Hawai'i Association of Independent Schools (HAIS). Through the process, schools hold themselves publicly accountable to families, foundations, corporations, financial institutions interested in supporting educational institutions, and all who seek assurance that a school meets certain generally accepted standards of educational quality, operation and staff competence.
This process involves a self-study which guides future school improvement. It provides for self-examination that relates all elements of a school and their impact upon student learning. The entire school community is involved as each constituent group assists to evaluate how well the school achieves its mission and expected learning outcomes for students.
While the self-study is the foundation of the process, the visit by the Visiting Committee is the second essential element. Committee members are selected based upon areas of expertise which will benefit the school in those areas which it has identified as needs. Familiarity with the type of school is preferred and the mandate of the committee is to reflect on what it sees and not to judge. The committee then examines every aspect of the school’s program and operations to determine their effectiveness in fulfilling the school’s stated mission. In effect, the members will determine if the school has “disclosed” itself accurately and fully in its self-study and assessment of how effectively it serves its students and the “congruence” between its total school program and its stated goals and purposes. A written report of the committee’s findings are prepared for review by the accrediting association.
Because independent schools are defined by their mission/philosophy and governance structures, these are the two essential areas of evaluation in the self-study. Also included are funding and resources, marketing and strategic planning, plant and facilities, admission process and qualifications of personnel. The effectiveness of each element is measured according to its contribution to the realization of the school’s mission and learning outcomes identified.
The best kind of independent school evaluation is based on the premise that the school is evaluated in terms of its own stated purpose and objectives, thus preserving both accountability and diversity that independent schools value.
In view of that, the accreditation process is designed to address critical questions such as:
- How effectively does the school carry out its mission?
- What is the general overall health of the school?
- How accountable is the school to its constituencies?
- How are decision-making structures at the school and resource allocation contributing to effective student learning?
- What evidence of student learning can the school demonstrate?
- How does the school provide for and monitor needed program improvements?
- To answer these questions, a school is expected to measure its effectiveness and to identify areas of need which form the basis of an action plan to foster growth.
Accreditation should benefit all constituencies of the school. In particular, it assures a school community that the school’s purposes are appropriate and being achieved through a viable educational program. It is able to validate the integrity of the school’s program and attest to the quality of its graduates. Accreditation is also a way to manage change through regular, periodic assessment which leads to a planning process requiring on-going reassessment.