By Ed Martin, Editor
A welcome to Lemoore High School banner oversees an empty Lemoore High School student parking lot. School officials are scratching their heads over a recent "probation" accreditation.
A welcome to Lemoore High School banner oversees an empty Lemoore High School student parking lot. School officials are scratching their heads over a recent "probation" accreditation.

Lemoore High School administrators are bewildered by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) decision to place the local high school on "probation" following a March visit by a WASC accreditation team.

WASC is the primary accreditation organization that oversees most high schools in California. An accreditation team consisting of visiting administrators and teachers visited Lemoore's campus in March to evaluate its programs and activities. Lemoore High School repeats this process every six years.

According to Lemoore Union High School District Superintendent Debbie Muro, the school received a letter three or four weeks ago that indicated the local high school had indeed been placed on probation, a surprising turn of events considering Lemoore High School's history in earning accreditation status.

In 2014, the date of Lemoore High's last accreditation, the school earned a full six-year term, accompanied by a one-day mid-term review.

According to WASC, accreditation serves two purposes: first, it aims to inspire trust that the school delivers on its primary job — providing high-quality education to students at a credit-worthy level of rigor. Secondly, it demonstrates that the school is serious about self-improvement.

Many colleges and universities require that incoming students come from an accredited high school.

Muro confirmed that the Lemoore High School administration received a letter three or four weeks ago confirming the comprehensive high school's probation status. "They didn't give any reason for it," she said.

Muro says she's not sure why LHS was hit with probation, considering its success over the years earning full accreditation. "It (letter) just said we're on probation. It didn't explain the probation.

"It doesn't really mean anything because we're still accredited, and we have to write a letter, you know, the same kind of follow up report you always do. You just have to do it in a year, instead of two years," said Muro.

Muro told The Leader she was not aware of a "probation" status.

According to WASC's website, a diploma represents evidence of learning. In order to confirm the value of that learning, most colleges and high schools submit themselves every few years to a process known as accreditation, in which an outside independent team or agency works with a school's leadership to help it examine and evaluate its work.

The work of school accreditation in the U.S. is carved up regionally, and in California, WASC is the governing agency overseeing schools' accreditation efforts. It is a nonprofit association that accredits private schools, public schools – including charter schools – colleges, including community, and four-year colleges, universities, summer programs, online schools, and home schools.

WASC is governed by representatives from the educational organizations that it serves, including the California State PTA. The commission meets three times a year, and its bylaws are public, as are most of its meetings.

WASC typically evaluates schools every six years, and it involves a self-study – commonly referred to as a school's "Focus on Learning." Each school sort of evaluates itself – a self-study of sorts – presented to a visiting WASC team of administrators and teachers.

The typical school's "Focus on Learning" asks itself basic questions:

The visiting team of educators visits the campus for about four days, viewing classrooms, talking to students and parents, and then compiles a written report presenting the team's findings. In Lemoore High School's case, the group visited Lemoore in March, just weeks before the high school shut down in-person learning due to COVID-19.

Much of the focus on the school's accreditation is based on a self-study report that the school's teachers and staff prepare in the months before the WASC visit. WASC generally helps with the report's guidelines.

Once the school's "focus groups" complete the self-study, school officials send it to WASC, which then recruits a volunteer team that visits the school campus to validate the self-study report.

Factors commonly observed are a school's vision, curriculum, instruction, assessment, and culture. Focus groups, consisting of teachers and administrators, meet throughout the year before the WASC visit evaluating their efforts in these areas.

According to the WASC website, if a school fails to earn accreditation, the usual course of action is for the accreditation team to assist the school in clarifying priorities and then schedule a follow-up review in one or two years. If a school receives probationary accreditation, it must submit yearly reports and receive visits until its full accreditation.

According to WASC, participant schools rarely fail accreditation, which in itself is fundamentally a self-study process.

WASC evaluators are typically kind to schools. For example, during the 2017-18 school year, WASC conducted 812 "self-study" visits, and a majority of those schools (751) earned full accreditation, some with a mid-year review. Only 57 schools earned a two or one-year accreditation.

About five percent were awarded a probationary visit scheduled for one or two years in the future. According to WASC, if a school fails to win accreditation, the usual course of action is for the accreditation team to clarify priorities and schedule a follow-up review in one or two years.

It's not clear what Lemoore High School must do to remedy its situation. The Leader contacted the WASC headquarters in Burlingame, but a spokesperson said it does not comment on a school's status.

However, WASC's website indicates that due to COVID-19, any 2020-21, future visits meant to evaluate a probationary school will be done online. According to the website, a probationary visit is a two-day event that may field a visiting team of two to five members. The team will complete a report and a confidential accreditation status recommendation with a justification statement.

Former Lemoore High School Principal Lupe Solis, who ended his educational career as an assistant superintendent at the Tulare County Office of Education, and now serves as an LHS board member, said the school needs to wait for all the facts.

"I guess in the letter they got, they (WASC) didn't really specify what it meant," said Solis. "So, we're kind of waiting to see, and it's even changing from last year – because I served on accreditation reviews last year. They were talking about changing some of the terminology and so forth, so we're just trying to figure out what do they mean?"

Solis says the district is basically waiting for more information. "We're waiting for them to clearly define the issue. What does this mean? When we did the exit review, everything seemed fine."

The visiting committee that showed up in March reported that things at Lemoore High School were going well and that the school had a focus and understood where it was going. The school was meeting its goals, indicated Solis.

"There was no indication that this was a negative (review) then. It's just that we don't understand what this letter means," said Solis, who has participated in many WASC reviews during his long tenure in local education.

For the last ten years, Solis has participated in WASC training and made numerous visits to school sites on behalf of WASC.

"We're wondering what this all means. We just don't know."


Lemoore High School officials bewildered by recent WASC accreditation rating, placing the school on probation