Over the next few months, your school will participate or consider participating in a review to attain accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Precollegiate Arts Schools (ACCPAS).
This brief document is intended to provide you with an overview. It explains the basic elements of an accreditation review in terms of process. But it also introduces the philosophy and spirit of ACCPAS accreditation, which may be quite different from those of other review bodies.
While the most fundamental purpose is to assure that accredited schools meet a set of threshold standards, the far larger purpose is to apply the accreditation process in a way that supports continuous improvement and advancement of each arts school and its programs. However, there is no single approach to improvement. Rather, the framework of commonality provided by ACCPAS standards is used to encourage and develop diverse approaches to improvement in each school.
A national accrediting organization can develop threshold standards, but it cannot substitute for local efforts to produce artistic, intellectual, and educational excellence. Therefore, it is the combination of national and local, with emphasis on local, that makes an accreditation process potentially powerful and of long-term effect. This connection is the basis for the partnership between the school and ACCPAS that should engage the interest and participation of faculty, administration, and Board. Indeed, the connections among disciplinary content, process, faculty, and students, as supported by the administration and Board, are the core of the educational process.
Elements of the Accreditation Process
Application. All schools are reviewed on a cyclical basis–newly accredited schools, 5 years; renewals, 10 years. At the appropriate time, the school forwards an application notice to the National Office indicating proposed visit times, curricula and/or programs offered, and other pertinent information. This notice begins the process of nominating and selecting visitors. It establishes a schedule both for the school and for ACCPAS.
Self-Study. The school undertakes a self-study, which includes involvement in a self-evaluation procedure and development of a self-study document. ACCPAS provides guidelines for self-study documents. Beyond a few absolute requirements, schools are encouraged to be creative in developing a self-study process and document that demonstrate compliance with ACCPAS standards and fulfill specific institutional needs. Self-study documents may contain texts created for other purposes. The ACCPAS self-study may be conducted concurrently or jointly with other review procedures.
To put it simply, schools have a great deal of flexibility with respect to self-study. Beyond the basic framework provided by ACCPAS, the school has control of the process, content, and weight given to various issues. For example, some schools will focus the self-study on futures issues, while others will use it to get the best possible analysis of current conditions, intending to use such a body of information in later planning efforts. The self-study document should be useful to the school well beyond the ACCPAS accreditation process.
The Visit. Following completion of the self-study document, a visiting team of two or more persons (at least one for each primary arts discipline offered) will come to the school for at least two full days. Beyond these minimums, the number of visitors and the length of the visit are the prerogative of the school. In certain cases, depending on size of the program and purposes of the review, ACCPAS procedures require additional visitors. The visitors are chosen through a nominations process that involves the proposal of a slate by the ACCPAS Executive Director, an opportunity for the school to provide an order of preference and to delete proposed visitors due to conflict of interest. All visitors nominated have been trained to do the work of ACCPAS. They work under strict guidelines to ensure the fairness and consistency of ACCPAS reviews. The visitors will arrive at the school having given careful attention to the self-study document. They will gain most of their information about the school from the self-study. Their on-site work will be devoted primarily to confirming the self-study and evaluating in areas where personal interaction is necessary. They cannot and will not repeat the self-study process.
All ACCPAS visits are required to contain opportunities for visitors to meet with faculty and administrators. Visitors will also attend classes, rehearsals, studios, and other functions. In these interactions, visitors are seeking information, analysis, and verification regarding the work of the school as related to ACCPAS standards and to the mission, goals, and objectives of the school. For this reason, the visitors will often spend brief periods in lessons, classes, studios, and rehearsals. They will ask questions that address overall issues, conditions, and results in the school. They will not deal with or attempt to adjudicate local disputes or otherwise engage in personnel matters that are the prerogative of the school. The visitors will meet with faculty and hear comments on the work of the school. At all times, the visitors are focusing on the extent to which students are gaining competencies expected for the curricula or programs that engage them. All other issues are subordinate to this particular concern. All operational issues and resources used are considered in light of this central competency-development purpose.
The Visitors’ Report. Following the visit, the visitors prepare a report, which should reach the school approximately six to eight weeks following the visit. The Visitors’ Report is not the accreditation decision. It is rather a report of the visitors’ impressions and analyses, along with background information, that provides the foundation for the next step in the process–an Optional Response to the Visitors’ Report by the school. The Visitors’ Report needs careful attention because of the weight it carries in the Commission’s deliberations. However, ACCPAS does not rely exclusively on the Visitors’ Report, nor does ACCPAS simply endorse the Visitors’ Report without careful study of other materials submitted by the school.
The Visitors’ Report makes an analysis regarding compliance with ACCPAS standards. It also makes recommendations for improvements that are not tied to accreditation. Visitors’ Reports make clear distinctions between the two.
Optional Response. Upon receipt of the Visitors’ Report, the school has the opportunity to respond regarding errors of fact, conclusions based upon such errors, and documented changes made in the program since the visit. The Optional Response does not change the Visitors’ Report, but supplements it.
ACCPAS Action. The Commission reviews the Self-Study, the Visitors’ Report, and any Optional Response to the Visitors’ Report provided by the school. Based on these documents and the standards of the Association as published in the Handbook, the Commission makes an accreditation decision. The decision is forwarded to the school executive and to other authorities according to ACCPAS protocols.
The Commission action letter is the official accreditation action. This letter alone outlines the accreditation results of the review. Of course, the school is free to follow through on any issues raised in its Self-Study, the Visitors’ Report, or its Optional Response to the Visitors’ Report. However, any responses or reports due to ACCPAS will be stipulated in the Commission letter. The Commission’s communication may also contain recommendations for improvement or future study that are not connected to accreditation status. A clear distinction between accreditation and other issues is made in the text of the ACCPAS letter.
Institutional Action. The school responds to ACCPAS if requested to do so. The analytical documents of the process produced by the school in its Self-Study and by ACCPAS in the Visitors’ Report and the Commission action letter constitute the basis for continued effort to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the arts disciplines offered.
Peer Review. ACCPAS operates on principles of peer review. This means that individuals with expertise and experience in the arts and in community and precollegiate education in the arts conduct evaluations as site visitors and Commission members.
Standards. The standards of ACCPAS have been produced through broad consultation and are based on decades of successful accreditation practice in the arts. The standards evolve through analysis and experience by ACCPAS and its sponsoring organizations, accredited schools, experts and organizations in the arts, and community and precollegiate arts educators.
Focus on Function Rather Than Method and Personalities. ACCPAS focuses its reviews on what and why rather than how and who. It imposes strict rules on itself concerning institutional autonomy. It does not attempt to regulate particular methodologies, make personnel decisions, or otherwise intrude in the development of means for accomplishing work. ACCPAS’ focus on competency development consistent with institutional and programmatic missions maintains a concentration on educational results.
Conflict of Interest. ACCPAS has extensive procedures to avoid conflict of interest in all phases of the accreditation process. Specific policies and organizational principles provide numerous checkpoints in each accreditation review.
Confidentiality. Members of ACCPAS and consultants, visitors, and staff treat as confidential all information about the school’s programs reviewed and all discussions and decisions made in connection with the review. ACCPAS considers all material generated for the accreditation review by the school and by ACCPAS as confidential. However, ACCPAS encourages appropriate dissemination within the school. The Self-Study document is considered the property of the school. For further information, see ACCPAS Handbook, Rules of Practice and Procedure.
Checks and Balances. Like our federal system, ACCPAS relies on a separation of powers to provide checks and balances for the whole range of issues in accreditation reviews. No one person is ever completely in charge of anything, and the school always has an opportunity to provide its perspective on conclusions reached by visitors or the accrediting Commission, and to evaluate the process formally, once in the middle and once at the end.
Visitors. During the accreditation review, visitors are serving ACCPAS and the visited school. They are not representatives of their own school or of other organizations or review processes unless specifically stipulated in a joint or concurrent visit agreement. Visitors are expressly prohibited from making comparisons between the school visited and their own. They must evaluate only against ACCPAS standards and the mission, goals, and objectives of the visited school. Although each visitor will have a background in some arts specialization, visitors are not permitted to advance the cause of their specialty over others, or otherwise insert parochial agendas into the comprehensive review of the school as a whole.
The ACCPAS Commission. Members of the Commission carry out the final accreditation and review functions of the ACCPAS process. However, the Commission can only make judgments based on the published standards of ACCPAS, and can only operate through the established and published procedures of ACCPAS. The Commission is charged with ensuring compliance with accreditation standards while avoiding standardization, with acting consistently without producing a regulatory sameness, with focusing on what and why rather than how and who.
Staff. The staff is designated responsibility for managing the accreditation process and for ensuring that all procedures, policies, and operations of ACCPAS are carried out fairly and in accordance with ACCPAS practice. The staff does not make accreditation evaluations, nor does it take overt responsibility for operating the accreditation process at specific schools. The staff does provide consultative services when requested to do so, and is involved in the development of literature, workshops, and other services to assist schools.
Questions and Further Information
This information document provides a brief overview. Below, we have annotated the major documents that give a complete picture of ACCPAS accreditation. The school executive or library of each accredited school should have a copy of these documents.
Since ACCPAS regards accreditation as a partnership between itself and schools being reviewed, it is important to ACCPAS that questions, concerns, and anxieties be addressed as quickly as possible. First, seek clarification from your school executive or the coordinator of your accreditation review. If necessary, the ACCPAS National Office staff will provide or find the answers you or your colleagues need. We ask you contact us as indicated below.
ACCPAS Handbook. Published periodically, the Handbook contains the accreditation standards, as well as the code of ethics and rules of practice and procedure, and other policies. The Handbook is the reference point for all procedures, evaluations, and decisions in the accreditation process.
ACCPAS Procedures for Accreditation. This document is in three parts. Part I provides an overview of the accreditation process from the school’s perspective. Part II provides guidelines and requirements for the Self-Study document. Part III delineates instructions for visitors and presents the outline for all Visitors’ Reports. These procedures documents are revised periodically. The latest edition is May 2007.