Independent schools by nature are different from one another. Therefore, they must be studied from different points of view in order that distinctions of their quality programs become evident. With that assumption in mind, SAIS schools are asked to choose a method of evaluation that most closely aligns with the regular, on-going visioning or planning under way at the school. Self-study and planning are indicators that the school has committed itself to a growth mindset and actively engages with current realities and future aspirations through the lens of its mission.
Choosing its own best method of self-study may be one more example of 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. Choosing your own path is one of the distinctive features of the SAIS accreditation process. Self-study methodologies have in common 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 established and uses benchmarks. 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 benchmarks and dashboard indicators chosen by the school. The following suggest some possible benchmarks for you 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 get to (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)?