Overview of NWAIS Accreditation
The Northwest Association of Independent Schools is a voluntary membership organization that promotes high educational quality for its schools through the establishment and advancement of comprehensive accreditation standards. In administering the accreditation process for independent elementary and secondary schools in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, the Association assists schools with the process of school improvement. Key to this process is the recognition that each school has a unique mission and philosophy. The Association does not try to impose a specific set of criteria that each school must meet; rather, the Association’s standards are based upon those qualities that have been deemed necessary in a quality institution.
Accreditation of an institution by NWAIS indicates that it meets or exceeds the NWAIS Standards and Indicators. The school is periodically assessed through a process that requires full disclosure and a peer group review process seeking to confirm the congruence between the school's stated mission and its actual program and services. An accredited school is one which has available the necessary resources to achieve its stated purposes through appropriate educational programs, is substantially doing so, and gives reasonable evidence that it will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. Institutional integrity is also addressed through accreditation.
Accreditation by NWAIS is not partial but applies to the institution as a whole. As such, it is not a guarantee of quality of every course or program offered, or the competence of individual staff members or graduates. Rather, it provides reasonable assurance about the quality of opportunities available to students who attend the school.
NWAIS member schools are expected to be in compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations. It is the school’s responsibility to be aware of all applicable laws and regulations and to take steps to be and remain in compliance with them. It is not the responsibility of NWAIS or the Accreditation Visiting Team to independently verify compliance, and accreditation by NWAIS is not a certification of a school’s compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
What Does the Accreditation Process Entail?
Accreditation assumes that a school, over time, has been comparing its own development with that of the Association’s major standards and good practices. With the assistance of the NWAIS Annual Report, which asks a school to illustrate the ways in which it has enhanced its programs annually, schools are able to gauge how close they are to beginning the self study process. Once a school feels it has reached that level of maturity, it embarks upon an institutional self study guided by the Association’s Self Study. This intense self-reflection is an opportunity to examine and evaluate itself in light of its own mission and philosophy. The process involves the school’s various constituents and provides guidance for the school’s future excellence, viability, and sustainability.
The self-study process results in a comprehensive document that outlines both the ways in which the school is fulfilling its mission and the school’s self-identified strengths and weaknesses. The self study is shared with the peer group review team, made up of 5 to 15 educators from around the country and/or region. The visiting team’s four-day visit involves the review of every aspect of the school's programs and operations assessing their effectiveness in fulfilling the school's stated purposes. The team makes a point of meeting with members of the school’s various constituencies. The visiting team creates its own report that includes observations, commendations, recommendations and suggestions to assist the school in its institutional improvement. The Association’s Accreditation Committee and Board of Governors also review this report prior to making a determination about the school’s accreditation status.
What are the Benefits of Accreditation?
In addition to promoting school improvement, there are many other benefits that come about as a result of accreditation:
- Accreditation assures parents and the general public that the school is focused on providing a safe and enriching learning environment while maintaining an efficient and effective operation;
- Accreditation provides school leadership with an independent, non-governmental validation that the school they oversee is effectively delivering a quality educational experience to its students;
- Accreditation eases the transition students face as they move from one accredited school to another by accepting the incoming student's credits and academic record;
- Accreditation provides education leaders at all levels with deserved recognition for going above and beyond the minimum to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to quality;
- Accreditation provides educators with valuable information about effective practices in other schools through participation on peer review teams.
What Happens After a School is Accredited?
Since the Association views accreditation as an on-going process of school improvement, accredited schools are required to submit a Response Report to their visiting team report within 18 to 36 months after the visit. This report must address all of the team’s recommendations and illustrate the ways in which the school has utilized these recommendations to improve its program and operations. The Association’s Annual Report helps keep schools on track in preparation for their next accreditation visit eight years after the previous visit.
Who Oversees the NWAIS Accreditation Process?
The NWAIS Board of Governors has primary oversight responsibility for the accreditation process. The Board has charged the Accreditation Committee with the review of the accreditation reports and annual reports while the Standards and Practices subcommittee continually reviews the appropriateness of the accreditation standards and assesses the effectiveness of the Association’s various accreditation policies and procedures.
Additionally, NWAIS is a member in good standing of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). The NAIS Commission on Accreditation periodically reviews NWAIS accreditation standards and practices to ensure compliance and effectiveness. NWAIS Accreditation is recognized by the State of Washington, and by the Northwest Accreditation Commission (formerly Northwest Association of Accredited Schools).