Friday, September 30, 2011

Christian Schools and Accreditation

The issue of school accreditation can be complicated and confusing.  Many parents aren't aware of the importance or meaning of accreditation when it comes to sending their children to school.  Like anything else, it is possible to place too much, or too little importance and emphasis on accreditation.  It is important to the overall picture of a child's education from kindergarten to 12th grade to understand what it means and what effect that might have on your children.

Portersville Christian School's educational program is fully accredited from kindergarten through 12th grade.  What that means is that the school meets or exceeds standards set by the accrediting agency in virtually every area of school operation, from academics and classroom content to school operations and procedures.  The practical aspect of accreditation means that if a student transfers from here to another school, the work that has been done here counts, and will transfer directly to the new school.  It also means that when our students graduate and apply for admission to a college or university of their choice, the school to which they apply recognizes that the work they did here meets their admission requirements and they can expect that our graduates have all of the necessary prerequisites they need to succeed in college. 

We are accredited by two agencies recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to set standards and approve schools.  One is the Association of Christian Schools International.  ACSI accreditation commissions are made up of Christian educators who have a clear, concise understanding of a Christian philosophy of education.  Some Christian schools avoid applying for accreditation because they fear that secular state standards will be imposed on them as a result.  However, ACSI makes sure that does not occur for schools that seek their accreditation.  The other agency that provides accreditation for us is the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges.  This is the main agency that provides accreditation to the public school system.  We receive a certificate of accreditation from MSASC as a result of our ACSI accreditation, which is more rigorous.

The main points related to accreditation have to do with the academic standards of the school.  We maintain written curriculum guides for every course that is taught.  A curriculum guide is the list of objectives and requirements for each subject area.  This insures that the content that is being taught in our classroom meets the standards expected of students on that particular grade level.  Another requirement of accreditation is that all of our teachers have proper credentials which certify that they are qualified to teach on the grade level or in the subject area they are assigned.  In addition to meeting the minimum standards set by the state for teacher certification, ACSI requires teachers to be certified through their agency, which includes the requirement that they have the equivalent of six semester hours in Biblical studies in addition to the core subject areas and educational methods courses.  In addition to that, to be certified by ACSI, teachers must complete a course requirement in Philosophy of Christian School education, and sign a doctrinal statement of faith. 

Our school procedures and policies must also meet standards set by the accreditation commission.  The course objectives must be rigorous enough to prepare the students for the next level of subject matter.  Students must receive a specific amount of academic instruction in the course of both their school day, and over the course of each semester in which they are enrolled.  Grading standards and assignment weights must be designed to provide an accurate assessment of the work that students are doing.  The length of the school day and the amount of time students spend in class must meet standards.  Scores on standardized tests must demonstrate that the school is meeting or exceeding expected outcomes.  Class sizes must fall within the expected limits.  Facilities must meet space and safety requirements. 

Accreditation does mean something.  Not only is it important to making sure that you are getting what you expect, and what you are paying for, it tells you that your children are getting the kind of education you expect them to receive.  If you have doubts, check it out.  There are some schools which will tell you they are accredited, but the commission or agency that did the work is not approved by the Department of Education.  It is important to know which agencies are recognized, and who you can call if you have a question.

The work we do at Portersville Christian School is not only confirmed by our accreditation.  It is confirmed by the accomplishments of our students and alumni over the years.  Our graduates, for the most part, are accepted at virtually any college they choose to attend, including some of those with the most competitive admissions standards.  Our senior classes have achieved the county's highest SAT scores on a regular basis, and having a national merit scholar or two has become a regular occurrence.  On the elementary level, our students place in the top third in percentile rank against the national norms.  But our students and graduates are also leaders in their churches, and involved in ministry.  Those are results that accreditation can't measure.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Few Odds and Ends

Thank you for reading this blog.  Since our school doesn't really produce a monthly newsletter, or promotion piece, this forum is a good place for discussing the broader issues of Christian school education, or specific things happening around PCS. 

In the absence of an administrative assistant, for about five weeks, the process of getting ready for school slowed to a crawl, and was extremely stressful.  Around here, we do the best with what we have, or at least, we try to, so the administrator had to do the data entry for Smart Student and load it into Grade Quick.  Grade Quick/Edline is now operating, grades should be there by Monday, September 26, and you should be able to access them. 

Our chapel speaker reminded us on Wednesday, in quite an interesting way, that our tongue can be a world of evil among all of the parts of the body, not in the way it functions as an organ, but in the way we use it to form words and thoughts.  We're starting into fall, we've been in school for a few weeks, and all of the things that happen in our daily business here that bring people together also have the potential to divide us, because we can get irritated about just about anything, and yield to the temptation to say something selfish.  I know that, because I have done it myself.  Prayer, at the very time of the temptation, is a big help, even if it is only a whispered prayer, because it keeps your lips and tongue busy for a few moments.  I highly recommend it.

We have 231 students on our campus this fall, and every single one of them is here because of God's providence and provision.  The enemy would like to see us fail, and will do whatever it takes to make that happen.  So please keep us, our school, and our campus in your prayers for protection.  Also, from time to time, we hear of hardships that occur in families who are enrolled in our school.  These can come in the form of illnesses, job loss, financial loss, or other issues.  Sometimes, there are people within our school community who may have resources that can help.  If that's the case, please let us know.  We'd like to help connect the resources with the need in our own school community.  Also, we have some families who need prayer right now because of health concerns.  Prayer is one place where we can be generous to a fault, and expect more in return than we are giving. 

Watch your Butler Eagle on Friday, and your Cranberry Eagle next Wednesday for an article featuring our latest National Merit Scholar, Michelle Slater! 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

New to Improve for 2011-12

Change is sometimes hard to do, but it can be good, especially if it is based on hard facts and you know it will improve things.  We've made some changes for 2011-12 here at PCS, and here's the what and why about them.

Team Teaching for Grades 3 and 6
Having double homerooms at these grade levels gave us the opportunity to team teach in the core subject areas.  The list of benefits to students when this can be done at this particular level is a long one.  Teachers get to teach in their strongest academic subject area. The students receive instruction from two teachers with a higher liklihood of having more classroom time being taught according to their own learning style.  Changing classes gets them up off their seat more frequently during the day, and the transition helps their focus.  The opportunity for "block" periods, to spend extra time in English or Math, is enhanced.  And of course, there is always the advantage of having two classes on the same grade level, which means smaller class sizes. 

We are looking for great results from making this change this year. 

Elimination of the High School Activity Period
The plan was to go to an eight period day for the high school, with no activity period.  However, adding an additional ninth grade homeroom meant that we needed ninth period as an academic class time.  The schedule is spread out a little more than it would have been otherwise, and there are some students with an extra study hall or two during the week.  However, we are making much better use of our time than we were with the activity period. 

Classes like choir and band that needed the activity period to get all of their members together now have them on Wednesday after lunch.  In addition to this, study halls are considered extensions of guided and independent practice time, and will be monitored as such.  Your student should have less of a homework load as a result of this.  They are expected to use their study hall time for independent practice (homework), or guided practice (getting help). 

We will monitor both the effectiveness of study hall and the schedule, and make adjustments we feel will help us make maximum use of the time we have during the school day. 

Consistent Weighting Standards
The Education Committee approved a standard for weighting tests that will begin with this school year.  A "test" is any assessment which measures student progress against the objectives of a particular course.  Obviously, in providing students with a measurement of their progress, test grades are important.  Previously, there was not a consistent standard used to weigh test grades as part of the student's overall grade.  If tests are not weighed enough, a student's grade may not be an accurate reflection of their progress in any given class. 

PCS will require tests in middle school, which is 7th and 8th grade, to be weighed at a minimum of 50% of the total grade for the class, with a recommendation that 55% be the minimum standard for assessments.  For students in grades 9-12, 55% is the minimum, with a recommendation that teachers use 60% as the standard for weighting tests. 

This will provide a more accurate picture of the actual mastery of objectives of a course by individual students, and will also provide us with consistency in our expectations.  It can be confusing, and frustrating, for students who see their grades go up quickly with a test in one class, while a top grade on a test in another class barely affects the bottom line. 

Continuous School Improvement
Known as CSI, this concept is pretty simple.  A school must continue to improve, and that usually involves changing something you are doing.  We have a real blessing here at PCS when it comes to operating a school with an academic edge, a spiritual environment, and some great personnel resources.  We want this ministry to continue to be viable and effective for years to come.  That involves taking a look at where we are, evaluating it, and finding ways to improve it.  Some of the changes that have been made this year were done to accomplish improvement, and there will likely be more to come.  Your feedback is welcome.