Frequently Asked Questions

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Disclaimer:  I respond to questions based on my own experience and knowledge as a supporter and trainer. These are NOT official.
When in doubt, ALWAYS check with WASC and stay in touch with the VC chairperson. This is particularly important if your school chooses to modify the FOL process.
These questions have come from both schools and Visiting Committee members.

The Accrediting Commission for WASC has a question and answer section on their website for more general questions regarding accreditation.


  1. What's the format for an action plan?

  2. Where can I find data about my school?

  3. Where can I find more information related to effective team practices?

  4. When is training for Visiting Committee members? For schools? 

  5. What's the best way to present information in Chapter IV of the school's self-study? 

  6. How do Visiting Committee's determine their recommendation for term? 

  7. What are the things a school should consider in selecting a date for the visit? 

  8. When I am doing my prewriting to send to my chair, am I only writing on what was assigned to me, or am I also expected to write a thought or two (maybe more) on other areas of the document?

  9. Our school is considering asking for a one-year extension. We've had a great deal of turmoil and expect new leadership before the end of this school year. What's the process?  What are the drawbacks?

  10. What about type style, readability, and clear writing?  What will help us present the most readable self-study or Visiting Committee report?

  11. Our school is not accredited. How do we begin?

  12. What should evidence look like for the Visiting Committee?

  13. How should we incorporate special education and English language learner teachers and staff in home groups?

  14. Will the visiting team want to see the actual surveys and comments (students, staff, & parent) or is the summary adequate?

  15. What's an appropriate format for a three-year revisit report?

  16. What are critical learner needs?

  17. My school wants to conduct a mock focus group meeting prior to our visit. What questions should we ask? How might we structure this?

  18. Just what are observers are looking for when they visit classrooms during an accreditation visit? Are there materials we must make available in the classroom?


1.   What's the format for an action plan?

There is no prescribed format; however, there are required elements. A table format is relatively easy to use, but not required, You should use whatever format your organization requires or you prefer. Check the Focus on Learning process guide for help. Public schools should check out material on the Single Plan for Pupil Achievement as you can embed what you've learned during the self-study into the SPSA as they are primarily activities and strategies to improve student lerning.

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2.   Where can I find data about my school?

Available data are growing daily. The California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS) provides longitudinal data about the nature and number of subgroups of students and staff: how many students are enrolled of which gender and ethnicity;  how many students graduated the previous spring; how many computers the school has; what's the age and educational level of staff. Most of this data has been collected for a dozen years - quite enough to show trends. If this data is not available at your school site, check with your central office. SAT9 (STAR test) data should now be available for a three year period. While subgroup data is mushy, it's getting more refined. If your district purchased the Ready Reports CD-ROM from the publisher, data can be manipulated in many different ways. If not, there are printed reports and basic data are on the California Department of Education, Ed-Data, and EdSource web sites. The newly developed School Quality Snapshot is another great source from CDE

Next, check with your local Chamber of Commerce for data about the community. Often newspapers (most likely a local newspaper) will have data from the most recent census organized by zip code. From this you can learn things about things like household income, education level, community ethnicity. Need more?  Read the local newspaper and pull articles describing the community. With some diligence, you should find a number of stories each year that give statistics on businesses, population growth (or shrinking) and density, city initiatives, and your own school and district.

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3.   Where can I find more information about effective group practices?

While there are many references, a great place to start is in Part V-B: Working Together of your FOL process manual. Key materials from the larger document, Working Together, published by the California Department of Education (CDE) (but, no longer available for purchase or download) are included. Many schools find that by building team spirit, understanding team behaviors, and establishing team ground rules, the work of subcommittees is more effective and productive. Having rapport, trust, and etiquette smooth the (sometimes) rocky road.

Ingredients seen as important to the successful set-up and launch of such team efforts include:
  • selection of participants
  • establishing visions, goals, missions and/or objectives
  • distribution of workload
  • timetabling
  • balancing skill-sets
  • allocation of roles within the team
  • metrics
  • harmonizing personality types
  • training on how to work together

Bruce Tuckman (1965) proposed the 4-stage model called Tuckman's Stages for a group. Tuckman's model states that the ideal group decision making process should occur in four stages:

  • Forming (pretending to get on or get along with others);
  • Storming (letting down the politeness barrier and trying to get down to the issues even if tempers flare up );
  • Norming (getting used to each other and developing trust and productivity);
  • Performing (working in a group to a common goal on a highly efficient and cooperative basis).

It should be noted that this model refers to the overall pattern of the group, but of course individuals within a group work in different ways. If distrust persists, a group may never even get to the norming stage.

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4.   When is training for Visiting Committee members? For schools? 

Visiting Committee training is in September, February, and March of each year. Currently, returning members attend a half-day training; new members, a full day. VC Chair training is held in September. School training begins the year prior to the visit and is a three part series. Day one is normally scheduled for November, day two the following spring, and day three the fall preceding a spring visit. In every instance there are multiple locations throughout the state.

Check with WASC for this year's schedule. Dates and locations are published on their web site. A call may be in order if you're late registering (650.696.1060)

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5.   What's the best way to present information in Chapter IV of the school's self-study? 

The most general answer is what most clearly display's what you learned about how well your students are learning (particularly as this relates to learning results and standards) and what data (evidence, information) was used. All of this must relate to the concepts in the criteria, be evaluative (how effective?), deal with similarities and differences (departments, programs, groups of students), and provide insight into what is or is not happening around the critical learner needs. Often, schools use a narrative format for the information and a list for the data (not matching the two). Other schools present the information and data in a table format, more clearly identifying which pieces of data were most important for drawing the conclusion. Perhaps the best advice is that Chapter IV should be good reading which leads readers to the same logical conclusions reached by the school in terms of the action plan. Don't forget the requirements for a prioritized list of areas for improvement, and strengths (unprioritized) for each of the criteria. If you want to see samples, do a web search (Google "WASC self-study" no quotes) and you'll find many. Check with a sister school for others. And know, there's no perfect self-study!

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6.   How do Visiting Committee's determine their recommendation for status? 

Using a rubric based on the criteria established by the Accrediting Commission for Schools, the VC makes a recommendation. Of the criteria (you can find these in your process book in the "Visit" section), a large number relate to the action plan (past history of action, reasonableness and rightness of current key ideas, and the monitoring and follow-up processes at the school and district); others relate to the process of developing and self-study; plus the criteria responses! Teams work to come to consensus on the recommended status; minority reports are possible. It is the Commission that grants accreditation.

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7.   What are the things a school should consider in selecting a date for the visit? 

Selecting the date for the visit is very personal. You need to consider (at minimum and not in priority order)

(1) current progress on the self-study. If you're struggling, think about a later date to give you more time; if things are rolling along, earlier might be better.

(2) winter and spring breaks (and any other unusual events in your school's life). Most schools like to have their self-studies in next-to-final-form before winter break so people's holidays are not crazy; and, often a school will want to have the visit before spring break, again, to lighten the holiday. Since both of these breaks are somewhat moveable, your district's schedule may affect choices. Think too about the spring Open House, a large drama production, testing schedule (this one can really get in the way!), and other activities that might impact either the team or the school staff.

(3) members. Member training occurs between late January and early March. WASC is finding it more difficult to fill committees these days. For instance, the team I'm chairing this year will have eight members, currently we have four (including me) and our visit is in early April. Selecting an early date may mean that some members will not have had a chance to get to training. That's not always bad (a strong chair and/or some experienced members can overcome this), but, all other things being equal, you want a pretty good chance that all members have attended the appropriate training.

(4) finding out about term. The WASC Commission meets in January, April, and June to review VC reports and recommendations. Fall meetings are generally acted upon at the January meeting with any carry-over to April. Part of when you make the agenda depends on the swiftness of both the school and the VC in completing the required documents and getting the requisite number of copies to WASC. But, you almost can't make the April meeting with an visitation late February or March date. So, if you want to know about term early, have an earlier visit and work with the chair to set a tight schedule for submitting documents.

(5) A number of schools are selecting a FALL date (late October or early November). You must request (in writing) this change early (December or January of the preceding year). In your letter, include some suggested dates remembering to avoid CAHSEE administration dates.

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8.   As a Visiting Committee member, when I am doing my prewriting to send to my chair, am I only writing on what was assigned to me, or am I also expected to write a thought or two (maybe more) on other areas of the document?

In general, write what the chair assigned. Many chairs take the first cut at chapter I, II, III, and V of the Visiting Committee report, leaving Chapter IV for the rest of the team members. Don't overlook making yourself look good by being well prepared for the visit and the chair happy by including ideas for the other chapters. Remember to read the entire report several times before and during writing. The contents are not as linear as the format would suggest. Take information wherever you find it! Use the electronic version on the pre-writing form either from WASC or from your chair.

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9.   Our school is considering asking for a one-year extension. We've had a great deal of turmoil and expect new leadership before the end of this school year. What's the process?  What are the drawbacks?

Schools may request a one-year waiver from the Executive Director. Waivers are granted for valid reasons. As you might guess, simply not being ready isn't valid. Generally a school will receive one waiver with the clear expectation that the self-study will be completed in time for a visiting committee visit the very next spring. There seems to be no "punishment" for the waiver - just an understanding that not everything can go well for a school all of the time.

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10.  What about type style, readability, and clear writing?  What  will help us present the most readable self-study or Visiting Committee report?

There are many good style guides, however key elements include active voice, white space, consistent use of terminology and acronyms, and some headings to help guide the reader. The generally accepted most readable fonts are Arial and Times Roman. Georgia is an alternative to the somewhat overused Times Roman. In general, serif fonts and ragged right margins improve readability. When using a serif font for the body of the text, headings can be in a non-serif font. Use bold rather than underline for emphasis. Using both bold and underline to really emphasize a word or idea is unnecessary. BOLD, CAPS, AND UNDERLINE used together are worse!
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11.  Our school is not accredited. How do we begin?

The process begins with an application and payment for an initial visit. Get details on the WASC website.  Once the application is filed, a team of generally two educators will visit the school based on its initial work. At this time, candidacy or interim accreditation may be granted for up to three years. At the end of this time, a full self-study and visit occur. A school may be denied accreditation on the initial visit if it does not meet the conditions or eligibility or the school fails to meet the criteria standards.

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12.  What should evidence look like for the Visiting Committee?

In general, evidence should be available and on display in classrooms not gathered in an "evidence room." Tell teachers to post a variety (work of different "natures" from a variety of students) of student work. VC members also see students working as they do classroom observations, picking up what's happening now. The Visiting Committee's work is to have thoughtful conversations with school personnel over what they learned while examining student work. They are not there to do the work of examining. Spend more time in conversations about meaning during the self-study process and less time gathering stuff to prove "how much."  Some significant samples might be placed in the VC workroom to help ensure that whenever members are in that room they "feel" and learn more about the school. Consider: student and faculty handbooks, curriculum documents, school yearbooks and newspapers, "larger" (often three dimensional) examples of student work including some of the samples used during the self-study, portfolios (if they are available), basic textbooks for core 9th and 10th grade students.  Think about adding photographs of students working as part of the decoration. With the continuing development of technology, many documents can be made available electronically.

If your school staff wants to walk around and celebrate student work, do it!  Enjoy if for the school's benefit, not the VC. This can be a great time to see some work from other teachers/disciplines.

In addition, some schools have made lesson plans available (on a desk or in a pocket near the door) to the VC as this was part of their ongoing work to link lessons with both standards and learning results. By the way, encourage teachers to do their best during the visit.

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13.  How should we incorporate special education and English language learner teachers and staff in home groups?

There are two options. One is to treat each of these groups as separate departments so that you have a home group of only special education teachers/staff and one of only EL teachers/staff. A second model is to integrate these people within the more traditional subject-area home groups (English, mathematics, counselors) as most closely corresponds to their teaching assignment. Either arrangement is acceptable. As a slight variation, you might even consider looking at RS teachers differently from SD teachers. The guiding thought out to be  what seems a workable and reasonably natural fit as the groups work to come to a common understanding of what is happening schoolwide. Whichever you choose, it should be reflective of you school's culture - either what it is now or what you're working toward.

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14.  Will the visiting team want to see the actual surveys and comments (students, staff, & parent) or is the summary adequate?

There is no need to keep the original source data if you have a good summary. It's the results and your interpretations which are important for the Visiting Committee. Think about discrepancies in data. Do students feel differently about an issue than staff? parents?  Keep data on how many of each of the surveys went out and to whom as well as the number that responded - that is, what's the base for the information. 

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15.  What's an appropriate format for a three-year revisit report?

There is no "official" format, just an outline of contents The directions from WASC give you a great deal of freedom in presentation. If you've done annual updates/reports,  staple these together with maybe some cover generalities. Check out information on Chapter II (for schools in process pre-2014 visits it's Chapter III)  of your self-study which is a "complete" progress report over the six-year period. Click here for WASC/CDE schools; here for WASC only schools.

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16.  What are critical learner needs?

Critical learner needs are those (1) academic skill or content pieces which large numbers of students (or of subgroups) are  missing or are doing poorly on and/or (2) non-academic issues that impair student learning (stress, attendance as examples) . Based on data, schools are to identify two for the purpose of this self study. While they can be a general as "reading." It is more helpful if you're able to say decoding skills for 27% of the students and content reading skills for all other students. The finiteness helps to better understand both the problems and the solutions. Sometimes schools wrongly make solutions into critical learner needs so that the need sounds like "institute a special reading program." The solution, once the problem is more finely defined, goes in the action plan. The other difficulty is that schools identify the measure of the critical learner need (lowering number/percentage of D-F grades, scoring proficient on a test) as the need. Try to get to the need itself, set measures (WASC calls them "growth targets"), study what staff are doing and not doing to support student growth (use them as an additional lens as you study the school's performance as it relates to the concepts in the criteria).

With the critical learner needs identified, you should ensure that at least one of your schoolwide learner outcomes (old name expected schoolwide learner results) encompasses the needs (in the example, the learning result might be "competent communicator" or "academically competent" or "meets graduation requirements." Because these learner academic needs will wind up as part of the action plan, you should gather more data about how well students are doing on your goals through the home/focus group work.
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17.  My school wants to conduct a mock focus group meeting prior to our visit. What questions should we ask? How might we structure this?

There's no list of questions to stimulate discussion. (Save the fallback: What did you learn? What difference will it make?) They always come from the self-study and should lead to the action plan. For instance, if there are several places within the self-study were is seems that families' voices are unheard, you might ask a question or two around this. "In the self-study there are several places where....., talk about how that affected (or not) your discussions/decisions?" "Do you think this represents most parents or a small but vocal minority?" "What difference does your understanding of this make?" Focus group discussion should lead folks beyond the self-study (it's already done) to the next step - If it's important, what can you do to improve it? Have you the will? Have you (or can you get) the skill? Have you authority? Beyond the self-study, the VC member and chairperson checklists in the FOL manual are a source of insight. Look at the questions raised in their preparation and time at the school. Even the task self-check questions are instructive.

You might find a colleague or three from neighboring schools who have served recently as VC members who would agree to come and role play with you. It's better if the "VC Members" not be members of your staff. They would need to do preliminary work - at minimum talk with you (or someone) about the contents of the self-study so the discussion is real. However, it's possible that your colleagues have not had much (or bad) experience on a visit and may not give you a realistic portrayal of what focus groups meetings sound like.

Looking for more help? Check out The Visit page for some of the materials used by Visiting Committee members.

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18.  Just what are observers are looking for when they visit classrooms during an accreditation visit? Are there materials we must make available in the classroom?

The VC will want to see the best of what's happening in classrooms. If it's normal for you to have standards and learning results and rules/expectations on display, they should be there. If not, not. Examples of student work should be on display. Some teachers/schools feel the need to develop a notebook for each classroom. I think this is not necessary as the VC's role is not to do the school's work. They just need to see some representative samples that might show some different types of assignments/activities from other days in the class. Teachers should not "dress" their rooms. I'm sure there are adequate numbers of materials (textbooks, support materials) already around. And, yes, the VC will want to see students engaged in real learning work - tell teachers it's best not to show a whole period of film or test. It's also true that this should be as un-disruptive (is that a word?) to learning as possible. So the best of the usual days.

You should also check with your chairperson as soon as you know him/her about what her/his desires are. Be very open and communicative with the chair so he/she become an excellent emissary for the school to the VC members. Were I chair, I'd tell you that VC members would visit classrooms where there were substitutes. Many schools will send a list of teachers out and tell you that you don't need to visit these. How students react to substitutes and what goes on in those classes is valuable insight. You might think of establishing a list of "special" stuff happening during the visit - a special debate or simulation, preparation for Senior Projects, ROTC marching practice - invite members to be sure to take these in even if they're outside the school day. I've gone early for an ROTC march and back in the evening (briefly!) for a play production while on visits. I've even heard of one team using post-it notes on the door to their workroom as teachers and students invite VC members to events and classes.

That's the long answer. The short answer is classes as usual but on a dress-up day. Again, check The Visit page for more support.

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