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NEASC accreditation unnecessary

Date: 4/26/2010

NEASC, the acronym for the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, first came to my attention a few years ago when it was reported that, due to certain conditions at Longmeadow High School, they were placing our accreditation status on "warning." I accepted this as a problem that we could work out. After all, Longmeadow High has been a beacon for high education standards for over three decades. When the Longmeadow School Committee Facilities Improvement Committee began talking about $60 million for a new high school or up to $20 million to renovate our current building, I took notice. I asked who or what is NEASC to force Longmeadow to consider such draconian measures? Where do they get their power?

I decided to look into this matter and began calling the State Department of Education's Legal Department. Here's what they told me about NEASC, its accreditation policy and how it affects schools in Longmeadow. NEASC, a private agency founded in 1885, has absolutely no official status in Massachusetts so it cannot affect the rating of our schools. NEASC "is not in the State Law," has no official authority and absolutely no power to mandate changes in our school system. They are merely advisory and can only recommend. Their standards for accreditation are theirs alone and not those of the State of Massachusetts. For official evaluation and acceptance of adequate education programs, Massachusetts has its own standards and tests such as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). We need not worry about NEASC threats that we will lose their accreditation as it means nothing.

To be sure of what I have just stated, I decided to speak directly with the Director of Admissions of three local colleges. To a person they gave no credence to the accreditation policies of NEASC as having any effect on admission to their schools. They said that they would willingly take Longmeadow graduates if we lost accreditation by NEASC. To a person, they also said that the physical condition of our facility was a non-issue. What was taught inside the walls, the curriculum, was all that mattered.

I don't know why or when NEASC was called in to Longmeadow to assist our development. As long as we continue to score high on our SAT tests, do well in No Child Left Behind scores, are ranked with the wealthy Boston suburbs in MCAS tests and 98 percent of our graduates are accepted at prestigious institutions of higher learning, I ask, what do we need NEASC guidance for? We don't need a self appointed, quasi-official arbiter of standards to tell us how to achieve, or to place us on "warning" for not meeting their arbitrary standards.

The only effect NEASC seems to have on Longmeadow is negative. It allows those who want to spend huge sums of money to be able to point to our potential loss of NEASC accreditation as the tipping point to justify those expenditures. Those people claim that Longmeadow needs a new high school building in order to satisfy needs affecting the accreditation as identified by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Don't be fooled by these scare tactics. Don't let them sap your strength by having you try to meet their requirements. Longmeadow's long history of education excellence is the only standard we need.

Susan Altman