School Improvement Process Offers Options

Diane McMillan's picture

By Kevin Mowrer
Manchester High School Principal

Secondary school administrators now have several choices to employ the school improvement process though MDE. Each option has components of assessing need, formulating a plan, implementing the plan, and evaluating the progress of the plan. Schools are allowed choice on which method to choose, but formal school improvement plans are now, more than ever, a part of the overall evaluation of secondary schools.

“…an exciting partnership leading to a reduction in duplication of effort and improved student achievement across the state.”

This was the closing statement of an October 29, 2007 memo from Superintendent Mike Flanagan to Michigan superintendents. The purpose of the memo was to describe the new partnership between The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI). NCA CASI has a long history of accrediting schools, starting when it was founded in 1895. In April 2006, NCA CASI unified with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement and the National Study of School Evaluation. Known as AdvancED, the unified organization provides accreditation and school improvement services to 23,000 schools in 65 countries and serves 15 million students.

The agreement between NCA CASI and MDE is meant to provide districts with “a comprehensive, integrated, and user friendly planning process that meets all requirements for both state and NCA CASI accreditation.”

So, NCA CASI and MDE school improvement processes are now aligned. Further, NCA CASI will provide support and consultation for the development of MDE’s School Improvement Frameworks, but also will offer professional development for schools to familiarize themselves with the different school improvement options for state schools. NCA CASI offers numerous trainings through their organization.

To fully explain the NCA CASI process, it is necessary to detail a few terms used in the process. Standards Assessment Report (SAR) is an online, self-assessment tool. Much like EdYes! from years schools are evaluated on NCA’s seven standards:

  1. Vision & Purpose- The school establishes and communicates a shared purpose and direction for improving the performance of students and the effectiveness of the school.
  2. Governance & Leadership- The school provides governance and leadership that promote student performance and school effectiveness.
  3. Teaching & Learning- The school provides research-based curriculum and instructional methods that facilitate achievement for all students.
  4. Documenting & Using Results- The school enacts a comprehensive assessment system that monitors and documents performance and uses these results to improve student performance and school effectiveness.
  5. Resource & Support Systems-The school has the resources and services necessary to support its vision and purpose and to ensure achievement for all students.
  6. Stakeholder Communications & Relationships- The school fosters effective communications and relationships with and among its stakeholders.
  7. Commitment to Continuous Improvement- The school establishes, implements, and monitors a continuous process of improvement that focuses on student performance.

The Quality Assurance Visit (QAR) is a three-day visit to the school by an NCA team. Team members volunteer and are led by a trained volunteer NCA schools/districts will now host QAR visits once every five years. Once the QAR team visits, the school/district will receive a report, written by the team, citing commendations and recommendations from the visit. From the report, schools/districts move forward in the continuous school improvement cycle.

Another development from the partnership between NCA CASI and MDE is the Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA). The CNA is part of a pilot program, which is a fourth option for schools not participating in NCA CASI. This needs assessment will link to a school improvement planning tool.

Currently, there are now four school improvement options for schools in Michigan.

  1. NCA CASI schools completing a SAR and QAR during a school year will fulfill their EducationYes! requirements for that year. Schools will receive full credit on EducationYes! score (1/3 of the EducationYes! grade for the school/district).
  2. NCA CASI schools not completing a SAR and QAR during a school year will be required to fill out a Self Assessment developed by NCA CASI. They will receive full credit on the EducationYes! score (1/3 of the EducationYes! grade for the school/district).
  3. Other schools (not members of NCA CASI) have the opportunity to update their Education YES! Performance Indicator self-assessment and rating on the new website. The 40 Performance Indicators remain the same as last year and will inform the work schools do in the Comprehensive Needs Assessment, if applicable.
  4. Schools (not members of NCA CASI) that volunteered to be part of the pilot project for the Comprehensive Needs Assessment (CNA) will complete that document on the new website fulfilling the requirement to do a comprehensive needs assessment and the Education YES! report.

NCA CASI and MDE have appointed a liaison between the two organizations, Reniero Araoz, a former high school principal, to help with the transition and answer any questions school leaders may have. He is available via email at or