WASC: Take 2

James Campbell High School Prepares for the Renewal of the School’s Accreditation

Maile Morrell, Reporter

The Western Association for Schools and Colleges (WASC) is an international accreditation organization that works with schools in Hawaii, California, Guam, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. James Campbell High School (JCHS) is one of the schools that WASC visits in order to ensure the education of JCHS students meet the Hawaii Department of Education standards. During the 2016-2017 school year, JCHS failed to establish a detailed report of data. What was written in the school’s report pertaining to student progress did not match what WASC saw when they made their initial visit in March 2017.

Student improvement coordinators Ms. Valencia and Ms. Cooper review JCHS’s new WASC report. Photo by Maile Morrel.

WASC decided to visit JCHS the following school year, giving staff and teachers time to improve and write a more specific report. Almost one year has passed and another team of individuals are coming to evaluate the school again.

According to the Accrediting Commission for Schools Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACSWASC), the WASC philosophy is centered around three beliefs: “(1) a school’s goal is successful student learning; (2) each school has a clear purpose and schoolwide student goals; and (3) a school engages in external and internal evaluations as part of continued school improvement to support student learning.”

The first step in the accreditation process is the school’s self-evaluation. They evaluate their performance and ability to focus on learning. Visiting committees made up of qualified individuals (mostly fellow educators), trained to observe the behaviors of a school’s staff, teachers, and students give helpful insight and feedback. WASC looks at more than the student’s test scores; the visiting committee talks with parents, students, and community members to determine accreditation eligibility. If a school fails to pass WASC’s accreditation criteria and policies, a follow-up is required. Schools that meet such policies with excellence are visited once every six years, whereas schools that need improvements are visited the next year for a further investigation (ACSWASC).

In a worst case scenario, students graduating from a school without proper accreditation risk earning credits that do not equate with national standards. Those credits would not count towards college because they were supposedly taught at a lower level than accredited schools.

To avoid this complication, many JCHS educators have worked towards the goal of preparing students and making sure the content they teach aligns with national standards. “In my classroom I make sure that I am following curriculum and that I’m teaching everything I’m supposed to be teaching,” said math teacher Jo-Hannah Liz Valdez. “As a school we have meetings every now and then to make sure we are meeting our goals and showing that we’re working towards students graduating and being college/career ready.”

In the last report WASC issued, there were many school initiatives the visiting committee liked as well as areas we could improve as a school. “[WASC] liked that the academies model and our standards-based grading because we are taking the lead in the state as a school, whereas other gmail schools are behind,” said the School Improvement and Testing Coordinator, Carrie Archibald. On the other hand, JCHS had to work on showing how educators respond to student data with purpose and intention. To do this, teacher meetings have been reorganized to focus more on addressing student needs and helping students improve necessary skills, such as writing.

The WASC team is expected to visit JCHS for reevaluation on April 27, 2018.