All signs look good for Fairfield Warde High School regarding re-accreditation. A report issued this month gives the school what one might consider a "thumbs-up" review.

Back in October, 16 evaluators from the Visiting Committee of the Commission for Secondary Public Schools, a division of the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) visited Warde back in October, reviewing a self-study, meeting with the entire school community, shadowing students and sitting in on classes.

Fairfield Warde High School Headmaster James Coyne said what the visiting committee saw over four days last October "was a school that lived its mission, the environment that we strive to create."

Coyne said the real benefit of the accreditation process is that a school can look at itself, review the various recommendations and make changes and further improve the school's learning environment.

The decision that will be issued in the spring will prioritize recommendations, according to Coyne.

"The work set out in front of us will be to continue to work to draw the connections for these students between the mission, the expectations for student learning and how we are measuring that and communicating that," Coyne said. "The challenge for us all will be to do it in a way that allows us to collaborate with our partner school, Fairfield Ludlowe High School."

Commendations in the report, at a quick glance, seemed to outnumber recommendations, and Coyne is proud of what the visiting committee validated, "what we worked very hard to create," he said.

He added, "It's really a genuine source of pride for everyone who works here."

Report results

The found that students appreciate the work of faculty members as well as the support of the parents and the community for programs that meet student needs and interests.

In addition, the study showed that Warde students express pride in the school and feel that Warde is a great place to make friends and prepare for the challenges of life after high school. The report noted that most students are familiar with the WARDE acronym and are able to cite various examples in support of the "Welcoming, Academic, Respectful, Dynamic, and Ethical" environment the school provides.

Students also let the visiting committee know that teachers are concerned about their success and are willing to provide assistance during and after school hours.

The committee found that Warde teachers demonstrate their expertise about their subject areas and how to employ a variety of instructional strategies to engage their students in classroom activities. Also, teachers post the expectations for student learning along with the mission statement in their classrooms, and all members of the environment support the mission and expectations. The report added that teachers have begun to use the school-wide rubrics in their classes, "but more time will be needed to clarify for students how classroom activities relate to their expectations."

In an analysis of the high school's curriculum and instruction standards, the visiting committee noted there are varied and engaging learning activities. It stated, "The curriculum at Fairfield Warde High School engages students in inquiry, problem-solving and higher-order thinking and provides many opportunities for the authentic application of knowledge and skills. The school's program of studies reflects the dedication and determination of faculty members to provide numerous opportunities for students to be challenged and grow as individuals.

"A review of student work and visits to classrooms reveal that the lessons and activities that FWHS teachers create challenge students to use problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills. Mock trials, primary source analysis, role playing, mathematics applications and laboratory experiments engage students in higher order thinking."

The report noted that the student-teacher ratio is 12 to 1, "and this allows teachers to use a variety of teaching methods for student achievement."

In regards to instruction, the report said Fairfield Warde teachers personalize student instruction regularly, stimulating, engaging and promoting higher-order thinking exercises.

"A review of student work reveals that teachers create many activities that challenge students to become active learners, to self-assess, and to reflect upon their learning," the report said. It added, "The overall quality of instruction is impressive. For example, in English classes seniors are required to complete a self-directed project that allows them to relate learning to their lives, make connections between subjects that are personally significant to them, and reflect on their educational experience. In many classes, teachers pose questions or problems that provide opportunities for students to apply learning to meaningful, real-life situations."

No NEASC-related report, however, is complete without recommendations.

A couple of recommendations in the curriculum area were: align all curriculum guides with the academic expectations for learning to ensure that each course of study provides teachers with suggested instructional approaches to activities that support the academic expectations, and provides students with ample opportunities to achieve them; modify the format of curriculum guides to ensure that they provide assessment techniques including the use of the school-wide rubrics to evaluate student success in achieving the relevant expectations.

As far as instruction, the following were a few recommendations offered: provide ongoing building-wide training on the use of best practices for instructional improvement, e.g., scientifically research-based instruction, the use of data to drive instructional practices, and the use of protocols to examine student work; develop a schedule that provides opportunities for teacher collaboration, review of student work, and the development of interdisciplinary instruction; and, continue efforts to maintain the rigor in all classes, especially the new classes created by the merging of level 3 and level 2 classes through professional development offerings and instructional leadership.

Fairfield Warde High School, said Coyne, has six academic expectations for its students: comprehend and critically analyze tests; write to communicate ideas; collaborate through active listening and speaking; demonstrate an understanding of creative expression; solve problems with accuracy and creativity; and, use technology to access information and enhance communication. Along with each of those is a rubric that measures where a student stands in meeting those expectations.

Coyne noted the visiting committee's report highlighted the fact that "we need to continue and re-double our efforts to explain to students how their progress is being measured, so they can see connections between big expectations and what happens every day in the classroom." Coyne said there benchmark assignments in all of the core classes.

The report notes that in November 2007, the Board of Education approved a new mission statement and academic, civic and social expectations for student learning. Shortly thereafter, Fairfield Warde began to develop school-wide rubrics which were created to measure student achievement of the academic expectations.

While school-wide rubrics have been developed and identified, the report said only 42 percent of teachers report using school-wide rubrics in assessing student work. Currently, there is no formal process to assess both school-wide and individual progress in achieving the academic expectations based on school-wide rubrics. School documents, the report noted, indicate that each department has taken ownership of specific learning expectations.

So in the "assessment of student learning" section of the report, the committee recommended, among other things: develop and implement a formal process for measuring progress of both individual students and the school as a whole in achieving the academic expectations stated in the mission; develop and implement a method to effectively measure the civic and social expectations using specific, identified data; ensure that all teachers clarify for their students how classroom assignments relate to the relevant school-wide academic expectations; provide professional development for the use of rubrics in general and the school-wide rubrics in particular; ensure that teachers review assessment data and use these data to inform decisions about how to modify curriculum and instructional strategies to improve student learning; and communicate the results of the data from assessment of individual student progress and the school's progress as a whole in achieving the school-wide expectations to students, parents and the school community.

The Commission on Public Secondary Schools, based on all of the findings in the visiting committee's report, will issue a decision on the school's continued accreditation later this spring. Findings on Coyne were rather positive.

"The headmaster provides leadership and maintains a shared vision and direction for student learning for all members of the school community," the report said. "The Endicott survey indicated that more than half of students surveyed say the headmaster is clear about what he wants the school to accomplish, and it also states that 67 percent of the faculty feels the headmaster has a clear vision, direction and focus for student learning, while 62 percent of parents agree that the school principal is an effective leader."

The full report can be viewed online, and click on the NEASC Report 2010.