Magazine article Momentum

The Accreditation Process as a Tool for School Improvement and Catholic Identity

Magazine article Momentum

The Accreditation Process as a Tool for School Improvement and Catholic Identity

Article excerpt

Is accreditation a means to foster Catholic identity? Here's what some educators believe

As many Catholic school educators recount stories about the accreditation process, most of them seem to react to impending accreditation with "Oh, no. It can't be that time again!" Like our colleagues around the country, schools accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) are required to undergo the self-study process every five years.

Accreditation is sought by both public and nonpublic schools, although maintaining credibility in the school improvement process seems especially important for Catholic schools, whose mission includes providing a growth-producing community whose students attend their institutions by choice and whose families often sacrifice to pay tuition for the school's services. Catholic schools are charged with the mission of providing a stimulating educational program in which intelligence, clarity and inventiveness are promoted.

Church documents specifically have identified the critical role of teachers in Catholic schools and the value of academic excellence. Michael Guerra, former NCEA president, suggested in his introduction to "Validating the Vision" that accreditation is important for Catholic schools to "become full and respected partners in American education" (Taymans, 1999, p. vii).

The message is clear: Efforts toward school improvement are critical for Catholic schools.

Have you ever wondered what Catholic educators think about the process, especially as it relates to furthering the Catholic identity of the school, promoting school improvement and the amount of time and expense it requires? Doctoral research designed to study the perceptions of secondary Catholic school educators involved in SACS accreditation was completed in 2003, producing statistically significant results and suggesting implications for practice. Findings of the study may be useful for administrators, teachers, superintendents and accrediting agency members involved in planning, directing or participating in the accreditation process.

Description of Study

The accreditation study utilized the Catholic secondary Schools Accreditation Survey (C-SSAS) to gather information from 482 educators in 24 schools located in eight southern states. Follow-up interviews were conducted with randomly selected volunteers to gather anecdotal information that might support or clarify the statistics. Theoretical constructs from the areas of Catholic identity and school improvement were combined in providing a basis for understanding school improvement efforts unique to Catholic secondary schools. The conceptual framework for school improvement incorporated literature on school-based reform, teacher empowerment, collaborative staff relationships and best practice theory. The framework for Catholic identity included seven elements gleaned from Catholic foundational documents and research: Gospel values, faculty collegiality, dignity of the individual, service commitment, spiritual growth, academic excellence and inclusion.

Findings: Catholic Identity, School Improvement, Resources

Several general conclusions about educator perceptions as to whether the accreditation process fosters Catholic identity (Table 1), promotes school improvement (Tables 2, 3 and 4), and warrants resources required can be made as a result of the C-SSAS study.

Catholic Identity

* Educators rated the seven aspects of Catholic identity important for all phases of accreditation (2.99 to 3.65, on a 4.0 scale).

* Educators with accreditation experience at other schools were significantly more positive about accreditation fostering Catholic identity.

* Administrators were significantly more positive about accreditation fostering Catholic identity than were teachers.

* Educators with more experience were significantly more likely to perceive that accreditation fostered Catholic identity. …

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