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Budget Cuts Lead Wyoming to Scale Back Relationship With Accrediting Agency

Amid budget cuts, Wyoming will dramatically scale down its relationship with national accreditation agency AdvancED, the state's education department announced this week.  

Wyoming had one of the most aggressive relationships in the country with AdvancED. Five years ago, the state outsourced almost its entire state accreditation process to AdvancED, based near Atlanta, Georgia, so that the company would evaluate whether all 364 of its schools meet the state and company's list of standards, such as students' perception of their learning environment, teachers' classroom lessons, and school board governance.

Along with Wyoming, North Dakota, South Carolina and Kentucky have statewide agreements with the company to conduct part (or in North Dakota's case, all) of its assessment and/or accountability services.  

Wyoming's current contract is worth $770,000.

But the state's economy has taken a dramatic hit in recent years as the coal and gas industries collapsed. The state's accreditation budget during this year's legislative session was halved to just $335,000, said Dicky Shanor, the department's chief of staff.

After the state's contract expires in June, the department will sign a new contract with AdvancED so that the company only monitors for the state its institutional schools, or schools that serve students with special needs. The state education department will now monitor whether schools are meeting its accreditation standards, and a task force will evaluate soon ways to make any necessary changes to that process.  

"We will still have a robust accreditation process for these schools," Shanor said. "The improvement efforts will remain the same and so will the goals."

Shanor said AdvancED satisfied the terms of the contract and, since 2015 has helped the state's schools improve in a variety of ways. 

"They've been very professional and helpful partners," he said.  

But at least one school director complained to a reporter with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that the company's new "continuous improvement" model required an inordinate amount of paperwork and classroom observations to meet sometimes-ambiguous goals. 

AdvancED president and CEO Mark Elgart said in a statement that the company will work instead with local school districts in the state. 

"We fully support Wyoming's decision to empower local districts to make their own decisions to pursue AdvancED Accreditation," Elgart said. "While state accreditation differs significantly from AdvancED Accreditation, local districts will be empowered to move beyond compliance activities to fully embrace the value of continuous improvement."

AdvancED has over the last five years upended its business model. In adition to providing its stamp of approval to more than 27,000 schools across the nation, the organization also provides a suite of online and in-person school improvement services, which some critics have seen as having the potential for conflicts of interest. 


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