What is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)?
The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) is responsible for the accreditation of public and private schools in California, Hawaii, and the Pacific Basin region as well as other parts of the world. Its full name is the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges. WASC also works with organizations such as the California Department of Education and the International Baccalaureate.
What criteria does WASC use to evaluate schools?
WASC-accredited schools must demonstrate that they (1) have a focused mission and goals for student learning; (2) are effectively organized; (3) have mechanisms in place to monitor student performance; (3) allow students to have a voice in the direction of the school; (3) possess a qualified faculty; (4) have the ability to regularly and collaboratively assess the quality of their educational programs; and (5) have a plan for the future.
Schools applying for WASC accreditation must typically lay out a series of strategic goals related to areas such as student learning and achievement, professional development, or collaboration between school administrators and staff and monitor their progress in reaching these milestones.
This is followed by periodic visits by a WASC evaluation team that will assess the school using guidelines that focus on:
- The level of student achievement;
- The capacity of the school to implement, monitor, and accomplish its strategic plan;
- How well the strategic plan targets resources to areas that most impact student learning;
- Information contained in the school’s own self-evaluation; and
- The school’s status in relation to the expectations of institutional or governing authorities.
- The evaluation team will then make recommendations to WASC on the level of accreditation the school should receive.
What is the process like?
The accreditation process has three main phases. First, the school engages in a "self-study" to examine and evaluate its entire academic and extra-curricular program. During the self-study, the school writes an action plan with measurable goals that it can work toward completing, and it compiles a report with descriptions of how it is meeting WASC's accreditation criteria and provides supporting evidence. Second, WASC sends a Visiting Committee to the school to validate the contents of the self-study report. The committee observes classes; talks to staff, parents, and students; and verifies that the self-study report is honest and complete. They write a Visiting Committee Report with their observations and make a confidential recommendation to the WASC Commission about the school's accreditation status. Finally, the WASC Commission meets quarterly and reviews Visiting Committee Reports and recommendations to determine each school's official accreditation status, and the school is notified.
What is an accreditation status?
WASC may grant any one of three levels of accreditation to schools: 6-year accreditation, probationary accreditation, or no accreditation.
Six-year accreditation status is a six-year term and is typically awarded when a school successfully demonstrates that it has the capacity, commitment, and competence to support high-quality student learning and ongoing school improvement. Almost all schools with a 6-year accreditation status receive a mid-term visit from a Visiting Committee at the 3-year mark.
Probationary accreditation status may be granted for either one or two years and is typically assigned to schools when there is “compelling evidence that ... the school deviates significantly from one or more critical areas requiring immediate attention and support." Schools on probation are fully accredited and may be excellent schools in many ways; however, there is at least one area that the Visiting Committee feels cannot wait three or more years for the school to address.
WASC may withhold accreditation when "there is compelling evidence that the school does not meet one or more of the ACS WASC criteria and deviates significantly in critical areas that impact student learning and well-being, the school’s program, and supporting operations." When an accreditation status is withheld, the school is no longer an accredited institution. This is rare, and schools will typically go through many probationary cycles without significant improvement before accreditation status is withheld.