Independent schools are different from one another by nature. Therefore, they must be studied from different points of view for their quality programs to become evident. With that in mind, SAIS schools are asked to choose a method of evaluation that most aligns with the regular, on-going vision or plan in place at the school. Self-study and planning indicate that the school is committed to a growth mindset as it actively engages with current realities and future aspirations through the lens of its mission.
Choosing its own best method of self-study is an expression of a school's independence.
A school's self-study may be almost any rational form of self-study that a school may choose which best suits its community and culture. The three basic requirements of any self-study are that it is: mission-focused or mission-driven, comprehensive of all aspects of school life, and inclusive of representatives of all stakeholder groups. The self-study process should result in the identification of specific and meaningful institutional goals. A school can use any self-study method generally recognized in the independent school world: NAIS strategic visioning process, school improvement plan, school renewal process, long-range planning, school wide SWOT analysis, etc. The school's ability to choose its own path is one of the distinctive features of the SAIS accreditation process. All self-study methodologies have an analysis and response to accreditation standards, engagement of stakeholders, analysis of data and data collection processes, benchmarking and environmental scanning, and mission relevance and mission fulfillment data. The School Report (see below) requires that a school identify, demonstrate, and document a continuous process of improvement.
One of the keys to the success of self-study and evaluation is that a school has benchmarks in place. The benchmarks should consist of recognized indicators that may be used as a basis for determining whether or not a school shows improvement from year to year. The school's planning documents should clearly indicate the chosen benchmarks and dashboard indicators. The following are some possible benchmarks to consider:
- Application history trends
- Yield, i.e., new enrollment as a percentage of acceptances
- Attrition as a percentage of initial enrollment from one year to the next
- Faculty turnover as a percentage of total faculty
- Changes in scores on tests given: AP, SAT, PSAT, ACT (PLAN, EXPLORE), ERB (CTP, CPAA, Writing), Stanford Achievement Test, ITBS, CWRA, etc.
- Staff development funds as a percentage of operating budget
- Number of staff using staff development funds for specific targeted purposes
- Percentage of constituency making donations to the school
- Academic and discipline area-specific benchmarks as set by regional and national organizations
- Self-benchmarking against longitudinal studies of various aspects of the school mission
- Appropriate, regular, and reliable opinion measures
- College acceptance and awards trends
VERY GENERIC MODEL
- Surveys and benchmarks:
- High-level analysis of what perceptions are at the school
- What does the school value?
- Perception of how well the school is performing at delivering on those important characteristics
- Focus groups:
- On the key elements of the surveys and benchmarks
- To establish 2-4 clear areas of improvement for the school
- Study and work groups formed around the 2-4 clear areas:
- Where is the school currently with regard to the study area (Profile)?
- Where does the school want to go (Vision)?
- What are strategies, tactics, and best practices that may be adopted by the school (Plan)?
- How will the school continue to monitor progress and demonstrate growth (Results)?