WASC releases goals for new accreditation cycle

Maya McNealis, Author

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Paly is creating an action plan for the next six years following the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Coordinator Emily Garrison’s release of the three goals for the next accreditation cycle on Tuesday in the Media Arts Center atrium.

The goals for Paly’s next accreditation cycle, which begins fall 2015, are:

1) Systems alignment for greater consistency around learning outcomes to reduce undue stress.

2) Research-based instructional practices that increase student engagement for all students.

3) Innovative school culture promoting global competencies, creativity, and empathy.

Garrison presented the goals in a student press conference held in the Media Arts Center atrium during tutorial on Tuesday.

Garrison has involved students, parents, administration and teachers in the goal-drafting process. After over a year of collaboration, teachers had a final opportunity to provide their opinion on the goals during the Staff Development Day on October 10th, according to Garrison.

“The more people you have involved in the process the better,” Garrison said. “You can network, you can come together, especially in a unified district.”

Paly senior and WASC Student Leader Arin Tai-Seale thinks student involvement in WASC is an advantage.

“Any time during the WASC process comments and questions are welcome from anyone. So students can have a large impact on the process if we choose to,” Tai-Seale said.

At the end of a retreat for student leaders and other members of WASC held in the English Resource Center, WASC members voted to select the three goals, according to Tai-Seale.

Posters like this "Stress Tree" were used to break down the problems students face at Paly and isolate weaknesses.

Posters like this “Stress Tree” were used to break down the problems students face  and determine weaknesses at Paly.

“It was a very open process, however there were not very many students involved in the retreat … about five students were present during the retreat at different time intervals,” Tai-Seale said. In addition to the retreat, WASC members have surveyed 1,800 Paly students in their English classes and talked individually with a few hundred, according to Garrison.

It took Garrison 18 months to craft WASC’s goals. “They’re extraordinarily powerful, but they’re very lofty, so it’s going to take a lot of work for us [to meet them],” Garrison said.

“I specifically pushed for targeting student stress and reevaluating the phrase ‘fear of failure’. Both of these ended up in the three goals,” Tai-Seale said.

WASC analyzed data from the California Department of Education’s website to find Paly’s areas of improvement.

“There are a lot of things we look at, everything from basic demographics – student demographics, teacher demographics, so that’s ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, students with IEP [Individualized Education Program] plans,” Garrison said, “to the big standardized tests like STAR [Standardized Testing and Reporting]”.

“We look at the number of students taking APs and the average scores they get and … compare [Paly] to other schools in our county and in California,” Garrison said.

Without accreditation, students’ transcripts are not accepted by most colleges. A school is accredited for a period of six years at the end of which a new cycle starts and the school must be evaluated again. As part of the WASC evaluation, a high school must not only pinpoint the school’s weaknesses, but create a strategy to strengthen them, which Garrison and WASC leaders plan to achieve now that Paly’s goals have been released.