Sterling Academy is accredited by Cognia through the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools (SACS). The North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI), Northwest Accreditation Commission (NWAC), and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Council on Accreditation and School Improvement (SACS CASI) are all accreditation divisions of Cognia. Cognia is the parent company of these three regional accrediting bodies, which are the primary accreditation bodies for public K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, as well as private schools in these regions. Because these Cognia accrediting bodies are the standard for accreditation, students who study at Sterling Academy can easily transfer their credits from our school to a college or university, or to another K-12 school.
To become accredited by Cognia requires a significant amount of time and effort on the part of the school. There are five broad standards that an institution must meet. For each standard, the school is required to evaluate themselves on a number of specific points; in total, there are 134 aspects of the school that the school must evaluate for themselves first, give evidence for, and then have Cognia verify. The five broad standards are as follows:
1. Purpose and Direction – The institution maintains and communicates a purpose and direction that commit to high expectations for learning as well as shared values and beliefs about teaching and learning.
2. Governance and Leadership – The institution operates under governance and leadership that promote and support student performance and institution effectiveness.
3. Teaching and Assessing for Learning – The institution’s curriculum, instructional design and assessment practices guide and ensure teacher effectiveness and student learning.
4. Resources and Support Systems – The institution has resources and provides services that support its purpose and direction to ensure success for all students.
5. Using Results for Continuous Improvement – The institution implements a comprehensive assessment system that generates a range of data about student learning and institution effectiveness and uses the results to guide continuous improvement.
For each of the 134 aspects that are found within these standards, the school rates itself using a 4-point scale:
4) Highly Functional
1) Not Evident
Schools are generally expected to achieve Operational status; the Highly Functional rating is for aspects which are truly extraordinary.
In order to accurately determine these ratings, the school must do a thorough self-assessment that takes months of discussion and research, since every claim made must have evidence to back it up.
Once the school has completed its self-study, Cognia comes to the school for an accreditation visit, to review all the evidence, and to talk to school staff, parents, and students to see if their opinions are in line with what the school reported.
In addition, every school presents to Cognia a School Improvement Plan, which consists of actions the school has identified that it will take in the two years after the visit, in order to improve designated aspects of the school. Cognia requires proof at the end of the two years that the improvement actions have been taken.
After the visit, the visiting Cognia team prepares a report of its findings. For a new school, it either recommends the school for accreditation, or recommends that the school not be accredited. This recommendation is sent to a board at Cognia's central office, which reviews all reports and recommendations and makes the final decision. Every five years, the school is required to have a new visit by an Cognia team and this entire process is repeated.
A lot of work goes into this! But the point of the work is not just to get the status "accredited." The self-evaluation process is designed to cause the school to dig thoroughly into all the elements of the school -- governance, teaching, support systems -- and find where it is doing well, and where it needs improvement. The heart of the accreditation process is that the school embraces a mission to always look for ways to improve. At Sterling Academy, we take that to heart, and strive to improve wherever we can, so that we can continually improve the education we offer to our students, and the service we provide to students and parents.