Cognia’s New Performance Standards

Annette Bohling

Chief Global Accreditation Officer

What makes a good school?

The quality of a school goes beyond its name, location, or reputation. An education institution succeeds when it supports every learner every day, offering opportunities for each and every learner to reach further.

One hallmark of a good school is that it continually strives for improvement. Like the member institutions we serve, Cognia works to innovate and improve. In spring 2021, we completed a research and development cycle that takes place every five years, examining and updating the Cognia Performance Standards to acknowledge changes and set expectations for quality education institutions in a new era. Based on current research in education, input from practitioners, and multiple expert reviews, this cyclical development process assures that the Standards at the foundation of our improvement and accreditation strategies continue to be viable, feasible, and relevant to educators in today’s world.

The new Cognia Performance Standards, which were introduced in July 1, 2022, define the practices of a good education institution and provide the criteria for improvement efforts that will energetically and visibly grow learners, teachers, leaders, and organizations. They serve as a framework for quality practices and provide a set of evaluative criteria to lead institutions to improve and change. Each Standard is rated according to a unique four-point scoring rubric. These Standards emphasize new themes that reflect changing conditions while looking to future goals and visions of education.

Every iteration of Cognia’s Performance Standards builds on the prior version to support ongoing improvement. Many of the themes of the previous Standards are reflected in the new Standards. The 2022 Standards also include several significant new concepts to guide institutions forward, including:

Learner-centered: Cognia’s new Standards focus on the learner, describing the impact on the learning journey of processes and practices, which reflect on the performance of the institution. Further, the Standards emphasize student voice and agency.

Demonstration of equity: These Standards emphasize the expectation of equity for every learner across all aspects of the institution. Equity is expressed in the institution culture and in a curriculum that values the diversity of individuals, families, cultures, and more.

Learner well-being: Learning depends on more than skilled instruction. Institutions must address multiple aspects of learners’ circumstances and environment, so that every learner can grow.

Four key characteristics are evident when institutions effectively adopt the Cognia Performance Standards and engage in Cognia’s review process for accreditation and continuous improvement. Our new Standards and the key characteristics are the foundation for Cognia’s approach to continuous improvement—not just to accreditation. These are the elements that should guide every educational institution to ensure high-quality teaching and learning and overall organizational effectiveness. These characteristics serve as our model for identifying and discussing school and system quality.

Healthy culture for learning: the institution’s focus on the challenges, joys, and opportunities for learning, and the coherence with its mission and vision

Leadership for learning: the responsibility of an institution’s leaders to influence and impact all aspects of the institution in positive ways

Engagement of learning: the inclusion of all learners in the learning process, and their development of confidence and love of learning

Growth in learning: the growth of learners in the programs and curricula provided by the institution and their readiness to successfully transition to next levels of learning

Every education institution strives for continuous improvement that results in success for all learners. Each improvement journey is unique but should always include consistent measures of the quality of learning and instruction.

Cognia’s Performance Standards embody the belief we share with all educators that equitable practices, principled instruction, and engaged learning in a supportive environment can transform lives, communities, and the world. Based on rigorous research and best practices, these Standards guide institution leaders and staff members to be forward thinkers, to focus on the needs of every learner, and to effectively use data and information for decision-making in service to learners.

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