Pathways to Accreditation - International Education

ACE Learning Protocol

NEASC ACE Learning - logo

An Introduction to Transformative Accreditation

Our concept of ‘learning’ – what ‘it looks like’, how it is nurtured or hindered, where and how it occurs, and what it means to be a learning-focused organization – has significantly changed thanks to social, economic, and technological shifts and dramatic new insights and understandings provided by brain research.

Yet, despite many efforts at reforming and reinventing the place we call ‘school’, education has made little progress in liberating itself from a 19th century factory model designed to produce mass literacy – and a compliant work force. For the most part ‘school’ continues to be a place where learning is equated with academic outcomes, content mastery, and uniformity of process and practice. ‘Learning’ remains largely de-personalized, is often confused with high stakes test results, and does not equip our children with the understandings, aptitudes, dispositions, values, and competencies needed to deal with the global dilemmas and challenges of our times.

ACE Learning introduces a fundamentally different approach to accreditation:

  • ACE Learning aims to transform rather than ‘improve’ schools and reshapes accreditation into an instrument to enable systemic change. ACE challenges the familiar language and ‘grammar’ of schooling and encourages ‘schools’ to become learning communities guided by a razor-sharp vision of learning in our times. And because a rich and growing bank of representative practice underpins its rubrics, ACE serves as a portal to a global network of learning communities.
  • ACE Learning asks learning communities to reflect on learner impacts rather than outputs and to identify the evidence required to validate the desired Impact. ACE aims to change the place called ‘school’ into an “interactive museum of learning opportunities” (Yong Zhao), envisioned and sustained by a community that shares and acts upon a common, explicit understanding of learning. Someone said, “All learning begins with and depends on a provocation.” ACE intends to be such a ‘provocation’.
  • NEASC meets schools where they are. Through ACE Learning, schools are supported no matter where they may be on the “transformational learning continuum.” ACE invites all schools to reflect on how learning should illuminate the path to a better world for the next generation.

Learning Observation

While documentation (curriculum, policies, plans, procedures) is needed on a foundational level, the ACE Learning protocol prioritizes observation of learning (and teaching) over voluminous documentation that may or may not reflect what actually happens in practice. With ACE, the learning community’s energy is concentrated on defining, understanding, reflecting on, and embedding learning as its central purpose and goal.

Learning Impacts

ACE Learning’s conceptual shift moves accreditation from an input/output-oriented model to creating a learning eco-system, which looks for impact of learning on the learner. Impact is not synonymous with results or examination scores. Impact does not mistake teacher ‘behaviors’ for evidence of Impact on the learner. Impact endeavors to measure the extent to which the learning community has achieved the overarching goals embedded in its learning architecture, culture, and ecology.

Adaptive Evaluation

ACE Learning reflects what we know about effective learner assessment: one size does not fit all. Identical accreditation cycles with identical requirements at identical “checkpoints” are a thing of the past. ACE reviews adapt to and take into account the specific needs of specific schools. A closer, more supportive relationship between the accrediting body and the learning community, based on synchronous as well as asynchronous interactions, is forged. 

Professional Assessment

The ACE Learning model also extends to the composition of External Review Teams. As visiting teams shrink in size, the volunteer/peer model gives way to a blended professional/peer system. Smaller, learning-focused External Review Visits require a cadre of highly qualified and well-trained professionals and peers who can be held accountable for their work. Thus, ACE requires a new set of skills on the part of the accreditation team members: they become “ethnographers”, “anthropologists” and qualitative researchers as they seek to understand, interpret, and assess a community’s learning eco-system and culture.

The ACE Learning Principles provided a framework to not just affirm the school’s practices in relation to its mission/vision, but to also provide research-based feedback to promote learning. This wasn't nearly as explicit during my involvement in team visits using previous re-accreditation protocols. For schools like ours, it provides research and support to change practices to better align with what we know is best for student learning.

— Ben Thrash, Deputy Head of School, International School of Helsinki