Double Duty: Re-Using your Thoughtexchange results for High School Accreditation

A few weeks ago I spoke with Dr. David Vannasdall about how his district used Thoughtexchange to inform its local funding plan, or LCAP, which is part of California’s system for funding public education.  So I was a bit surprised and very interested to discover that the same Thoughtexchange results that Arcadia used for its LCAP were also useful–and incredibly time-saving–for the re-accreditation of its high schools.

“The accreditation team used our Thoughtexchange results to jump-start what would have been months of trying to collect different types of input. In the past, we needed numerous meetings and surveys to just begin to gather enough information for our working groups to do a self study.”

– Dr. David Vannasdall, Superintendent Arcadia Unified School

Even though Arcadia started with a uniquely California-focused engagement, what they were able to accomplish is important to districts across the country.

There are two main reasons for this:

1) The right questions have multiple applications

Though the original intent was LCAP planning, the three open-ended questions Arcadia asked its stakeholders were the same three questions our customers across the country ask in their Thoughtexchange “Weather Reports”.

Namely: “What do you appreciate about our schools?”, “What are you concerned about?” and “Do you have any additional thoughts?”

In other words, districts that have completed a Thoughtexchange Weather Report have already completed the data gathering, and most of the analysis, required for their high school accreditation processes.

2) Thoughtexchange results meet evidence criteria across regions

Arcadia completed their re-accreditation self-study with the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). WASC is one of six official academic bodies responsible for the accreditation of public and private universities, colleges, secondary and elementary schools in the United States and foreign institutions of American origin.

Whether it is WASC, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), or others, the principles for accreditation are similar across the nation. The fundamental basis for accreditation is concrete, verifiable evidence that demonstrates that an institution meets the core commitments or standards of student learning and success, quality and improvement, institutional integrity, sustainability, and accountability.

According to The Handbook for Accreditation put out by the WASC Senior College and University Commission, all of the evidence presented or considered in the accreditation self-study must be:

  1. Relevant
  2. Verifiable
  3. Representative
  4. Cumulative
  5. Actionable

Thoughtexchange allows districts to use vast amounts of qualitative data in ways that adhere to these principles – particularly when it comes to Relevant, Representative, and Actionable evidence.

Relevant Evidence

“While this principle may seem obvious, institutions sometimes produce reams of statistics in the course of an evaluation that are only marginally related to the questions they are trying to answer.”

– WASC Senior College and University Commission’s Handbook for Accreditation

Qualitative data, collected in the community’s own words, and weighted by the entire group makes for more compelling evidence. Thoughtexchange’s ability to theme thoughts ensures that the evidence collected can be aligned along the standards or questions that the district is trying to answer.

Representative Evidence

“Any evidence advanced must be typical of an underlying situation or condition, and not be an isolated case.”

– WASC Senior College and University Commission’s Handbook for Accreditation

With traditional engagement methods like in-person meetings, it is often the loudest voice in the room that is heard. Small but organized groups can dominate the discussion and detract from how the broader community is feeling because meaningful engagement, where everyone has an equal opportunity to speak, is simply not feasible with large groups.

Thoughtexchange removes the obstacles to meaningful participation by allowing participants to contribute their thoughts at their convenience and in their own words.

And because the thoughts shared in a Thoughtexchange are read and evaluated by the entire group, the thoughts that rise to the top are in fact the thoughts that the group believes are most representative.

Actionable Evidence

“Evidence should provide institutions with good information about taking actions for improvement. This entails that both the analysis and presentation of evidence need to be appropriately disaggregated to reveal underlying patterns of strength and weakness, or to uncover specific opportunities for intervention and improvement.”

Using Evidence in the WSCUC Accreditation Process: A Guide For Institutions (June 2015)

Thoughtexchange Weather Reports are inherently structured to reveal patterns of strength and weakness. What’s more, the results that come out of these processes are specific, descriptive, and recommend a course of action.

For example, because the Thoughtexchange process can surface district-wide and site-specific priorities, Arcadia was able to take a granular, more responsive approach to their LCAP. They were able to allocate funds according to site-specific needs, as opposed to dividing them up equally, on a per-head basis, like they did in the past.

Or, as in Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools’ experience with their mental health and bullying Thoughtexchange:

“We were able to determine some really meaningful perspectives and we’ve been able to distill our priorities around bullying to six main initiatives over three years. In mental health, we were able to come up with eight initiatives – and that all came from the voice of 2,000 people.”

-David Keohane, Superintendent Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools

In addition to providing actionable results, Thoughtexchange can also align results by theme, on a year-over-year basis, to help districts determine how effective the actions they’ve taken have been.

Interested in learning more?

Read Arcadia Unified School District’s Case Study

About the Author

Senka Kovacevic

Senka is a Writer. She has interviewed superintendents, communications professionals, business and thought leaders across North America and is passionate about bringing their experiences to wider audiences that can benefit from their learnings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *