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Catholic Leaders Weigh School-Accrediting Plan

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At the urging of the superintendents of the nation's Roman Catholic schools, the National Catholic Educational Association is drawing up a proposal for establishing an accrediting agency for Catholic elementary schools, according to an ncea official.

Such an agency, some Catholic educators maintain, would be able to evaluate "the whole mission" of Catholic schools in a way that other accrediting agencies often do not.

The ncea board of directors will vote on the proposal at its December meeting, according to Sister Carleen Reck, the accreditation project's di-rector. If approved by the board, a Catholic-school accrediting agency could be in place as early as next summer, Sister Carleen said.

Although ncea accreditation would initially be available only at the elementary-school level, association officials said the practice could later be extended to Catholic secondary schools as well.

In many instances, ncea accreditation would supplement, not replace, accreditation by other agencies, association officials indicated.

Most Catholic secondary schools are now accredited through one of the six regional accrediting organizations for schools and colleges, or through state accrediting agencies, as are a number of Catholic elementary schools. Some states, however--such as Texas and Virginia--have decided to stop accrediting nonpublic schools, ncea officials noted.

An eight-member task force of ncea staff members and prominent Catholic educators met last week to discuss the proposed agency and "to help us see what direction it will take," Sister Carleen said.

According to Sister Carleen, the idea of a national Catholic accreditation process has been discussed among Catholic educators for a number of years. Earlier this year, the ncea surveyed the country's 197 Catholic-school superintenel10ldents to assess their interest in a new accrediting agency.

"The response was yes, there was sufficient support to at least make a proposal to the ncea board for this purpose," said the Rev. William F. Davis, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Va., who analyzed the survey's findings.

According to the survey results, at least 60 percent of the superintendents expressed interest in three possibilities for ncea involvement in accreditation:

An evaluation instrument and procedure that would be developed by the ncea and used at the diocesan level, with reports on schools being submitted to the new agency.

A process through which an ncea agency would approve existing diocesan or statewide Catholic-school accrediting or evaluation systems, such as one now operating in Florida.

A process that would supplement state or regional accrediting systems that do not currently evaluate the religious aspects of Catholic-school programs.

A random sample of principals of Catholic elementary schools was also polled, and the principals expressed support for the ideas as well, Father Davis said.

Based on the recommendations made in the survey, the accreditation task force developed a set of procedures, structures, and standards, which the ncea staff is using to devise a "skeletal model" of an accrediting system, Father Davis said. He noted that the model will be presented for discussion at the fall meeting of the chief administrators of Catholic schools, to be held later this month.

Assessing 'Whole Mission'

Catholic-school officials argue that state and regional accrediting agencies often evaluate only the secular aspects--not "the whole mission"--of their schools.

"We want to assess the total quality of our program: the academic aspect, the social aspect, and the religious aspect," Father Davis said. He added that in some instances the regional accrediting groups do in fact make a broader evaluation.

John N. Stoops, executive director of the Assembly of Elementary Schools in the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, said his group does make an effort to examine the religious aspect of Catholic schools.

"Yes, we look at how well the schools carry out their religious mission, if such a mission is stated in the school philosophy," Mr. Stoops said. "In principle, the other regional groups operate the same way we do."

Mr. Stoops said that, in his view, the regional accrediting groups would welcome the opportunity to work jointly with an ncea accrediting agency.

Elementary Schools First

ncea accreditation would at first be available only to Catholic elementary schools, Father Davis said. "The initial effort had to be limited in some way," he said. "But if this process can fly, then I think we would consider something at the secondary level as well."

Elementary-school accreditation is still a relatively new concept, according to Mr. Stoops of the middle-states association. Only within the past 10 years have regional accrediting groups begun offering accreditation to elementary schools.

One group--the New England Association of Colleges and Schools-- has just begun offering such accreditation, he added.

Robert L. Smith, executive director of the Council for American Private Education, said the ncea would not be the first nonpublic-school group to devise its own system of accreditation for elementary schools.

According to Mr. Smith, groups such as the American Montessori Society and the American Lutheran Education Association developed their own systems because regional and state accrediting guidelines "were not entirely appropriate for the mission of their schools."

Mr. Smith praised the ncea's efforts to establish an accrediting agency. "I'm always in favor of schools finding better ways to assess what they are doing," he said.

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