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Using the National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools with a New Accreditation Process

Article excerpt

The Archdiocese of Washington is always looking for better ways to teach its students, serve its families and parish communities and improve the success of Catholic schools. This call to discover a better way and continually improve our schools came at the Convocation on Catholic Education in Washington, D.C., in October 2007. Discussions at this gathering led pastors, principals, catechetical leaders and members from a variety of advisory groups to call for "an over-arching strategy for promoting Catholic schools and policies to support such a vision" (Wuerl, 2008).

The following year, in his pastoral letter, "Catholic Education: Looking to the Future with Confidence," Cardinal Donald Wuerl (2008) outlined four pillars of Catholic schools: Catholic Identity, academic excellence, accessibility and affordability. These pillars provided the vision and created the framework for use in policy development and Catholic school strategic planning. With the four pillars as a guide, a task force developed new Catholic school policies in consultation with thousands of Catholic school stakeholders. These policies provided "a common and agreed upon instrument for ensuring that our schools are Catholic, academically excellent, well governed, and to the best of our ability, affordable and accessible" (Wuerl, 2009).

With excellence in Catholic schools more clearly defined by policy, the Catholic Schools Office staff, in consultation with pastors, principals and other school leaders, began the process of assessing the effectiveness of our instructional and operational practices. It was found that previous practices were no longer as effective as they had once been. One of the areas that received significant review was the accreditation process. At the time, accreditation was something that schools did in isolation from each other (as well as in isolation from the archdiocese) using a set of standards no longer aligned to the unique mission of Catholic schools in the archdiocese.

For accreditation to be more effective, the archdiocese established the goal to connect accreditation efforts to its mission for Catholic schools, and to allow schools to work together so that the process strengthened not only the individual school but the entire Catholic school community. Through conversations with other dioceses and archdioceses, the Archdiocese of Washington discovered that AdvancED had an accreditation process that supported the unique mission of Catholic schools. This new process would help schools save money by pooling their resources. More importantly, it would support efforts to ensure that archdiocesan policy and accreditation standards worked in harmony with the archdiocese's shared vision for Catholic schools. Four years after the convocation's call for an "over-arching strategy for promoting Catholic schools" (Wuerl, 2008), the Archdiocese of Washington partnered with AdvancED to assist with its accreditation needs.

While the researched-based "AdvancEd Standards for Quality Schools" (2012) helped define the qualities and behaviors of an excellent school, they were still not 100 percent aligned with our Catholic Identity. The archdiocese still wanted a set of standards and rubrics that provided a common understanding of what makes Catholic schools both excellent and Catholic. NBSECS provided exactly what the archdiocese wanted. These Catholic standards, in conjunction with the standards rubrics that are being developed by a national Rubrics Development Committee with the support of AdvancED, will give schools in the Archdiocese of Washington the tools and resources needed to develop continuous school improvement plans aligned with their unique mission as Catholic schools.

While still in the early stages of this new accreditation process, the archdiocese is pleased with the progress. The archdiocesan accreditation steering committee has begun to align the draft of the "National Standards and Benchmarks for Effective Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools" and the standards of AdvancED with the archdiocese's Catholic school policies. …