Q&A for International School Accreditation
Q&A for International School Accreditation
What are the pathways available to receive NEASC accreditation?
Recognizing that “one size does not fit all”, NEASC offers multiple pathways for PK-12 international schools interested in accreditation. We meet schools where they are. These pathways include:
- our well-known ACE Learning pathway, the chosen approach for most of our schools
- the Standard Pathway, developed for schools needing more time to build strong foundations while still focusing on learning impacts
- the Collaborative Learning Protocol, a fusion of ACE Learning and IB program review that eliminates duplication of effort and keeps the focus on learning (developed in collaboration with the IB)
- a joint approach for schools interested in accreditation by both NEASC and the Council of International Schools (CIS), which offers a single protocol and a joint visiting team
For more information, please read our guide, "Accreditation Pathways for International Schools":
How long does it take to become accredited by NEASC?
Assuming no delays, the process for new schools (operational for at least two years) takes about three years. The process begins with an application, and continues to the Foundation Standards or “Eligibility” phase, and then to the Preparatory or “Candidate” phase. The cycle then continues with the Internal Reflection (also called Self-Study) phase of 12-18 months culminating in the External Review Visit which finally determines the school’s accreditation status.
If we are already accredited by a different agency, how can we switch to NEASC?
Schools currently accredited and in good standing with another NEASC-recognized accreditation agency and who wish to switch to or to add NEASC Accreditation may apply under NEASC’s Policy 1.6 which leads to an important two-day Foundation Standards review visit. Successful completion of the Foundation Standards review visit can lead to full NEASC Accreditation with no gap in accredited status. Examples include schools already accredited by COBIS or other internationally-respected accreditation agencies recognized by NEASC.
How much should we budget for NEASC accreditation?
If a school’s initial application is accepted, then the school pays an application fee and subsequent fees for each visit as published on our Dues and Fees schedule. Once the school achieves “Candidate” status (generally following the Preparatory visit), the school begins paying annual dues based on student enrollment.
For hypothetical budgeting purposes, a school of 500 students with no delays in the process may consider the following approximate 5-year cost breakdown* based on 2022 figures (from application through to the start of the second accreditation cycle, regardless of accreditation pathway):
|Application fee||$1600 USD|
|Foundation Standards Visit||$2300 USD|
|Preparatory Visit (Candidacy)||$2900 USD|
|External Review (team) Visit
(for 301-600 students;
same as Annual Dues)
|Annual Dues, Years 4-5 ($3825 per year)||$7650 USD|
|Total estimated 5-year cost*||$18,275 USD|
*Please note that schools must also cover all appropriate travel and lodging expenses for visitors.
When and where does NEASC list accredited schools?
As soon as an applicant school has hosted a successful Preparatory visit, we award “Candidacy” which includes a NEASC Candidate logo that the school may display on its website and other school materials. Until that point, no NEASC logos may be displayed by the school. We also list Candidate schools on our online school directory. After a successful External Review Visit, we send schools a NEASC Accredited logo and list the school as a Member on our website.
How is NEASC accreditation today different from previous protocols, and why isn’t it referred to as the 9th Edition?
For decades, NEASC used an ever-evolving accreditation protocol for all international schools, from the 1st to the 8th edition. In 2016, we stopped making incremental revisions, signaling a fundamental shift in how NEASC approaches the accreditation of international schools. Since then we have also introduced multiple pathways, including our flagship ACE Learning protocol.
ACE in particular isn’t just an improvement on a prior version; it’s a transformation of the accrediting work by schools and by NEASC. It differs by:
- Articulating “gatekeeper” Foundation Standards that are the non-negotiable requirements to be substantially met before a school may proceed to the next stage toward accreditation. This a transactional part of the accreditation process and most similar to compliance-oriented prior protocols;
- Outlining Learning Principles for ACE pathway schools that are aspirational in nature and that challenge schools to transform practices in alignment with these Principles;
- Presenting “Areas of Reflection” for Standard pathway schools that cover an array of qualities deemed critical to a successfully functioning school, including learning, teaching, wellness, inclusion, and community – without losing sight of essential work building and maintaining strong foundations;
- Looking for impacts on learners, and not merely on the various compliance-focused inputs and outputs (programs, activities, resources, etc.) as we have done in the past;
- Keeping the accreditation experience development and aspirational in nature, whenever possible.
What is the sequence of the accreditation cycle?
Schools follow a 5-year accreditation cycle, culminating in an External Review Visit by a team of NEASC peer reviewers. The graphic below captures the cycle for both new and returning schools.
The size of your learning community is one factor to consider. Some schools organize their committees around the three pillars of ACE, others have ten separate committees, one for each Learning Principle. The process is yours, so you can organize it in any way that will be meaningful to your community.
View the ACE Ecosystem 2.0 document for more details:
Who conducts accreditation visits?
At the heart of NEASC Accreditation are the peer reviewers who conduct the bulk of our school visits. NEASC volunteers tend to be active education professionals motivated by the opportunity to help their colleagues achieve success. To qualify for participation in accreditation visits to international schools, volunteers undergo rigorous training plus additional written work. Newly qualified visitors are usually paired with an experienced visitor for their first NEASC visit. NEASC offers periodic training for new and experienced visitors through workshops.
How does a school qualify to pursue the streamlined IB-NEASC Collaborative Learning Protocol (CLP)?
Launched in 2021, the Collaborative Learning Protocol (CLP) is offered to schools who seek a streamlined, synchronized review process and who meet the following criteria:
- the school is qualified to pursue the NEASC ACE Learning pathway
- the school is a multi-section school authorized for two or more IB programs; or the school has only one section (primary, middle or senior) and is authorized to deliver the relevant IB program for that section (Primary Years Program-PYP, Middle Years Program-MYP, Diploma Program-DP);
- the school, together with NEASC and IB, agrees to combine review years of multiple programs into the same season
A school offering only the IB Career-related Programme (CP) is not eligible for a synchronized visit, nor is a multi-section school that offers only the DP and CP.
If you would like more information on the CLP, please contact us.
What are the 4 Cs and why are they important?
NEASC Visitors look for progress throughout a school’s accreditation journey, and they also look for evidence of the 4 Cs which are:
- conceptual understanding of effective learning
- commitment to the transformational accreditation process
- capacity for change and the hard work demanded through NEASC accreditation
- competence to move beyond talk, to action and implementation
View the ACE Ecosystem 2.0 document for more details on how the 4 Cs relate to ACE Learning:
Can a school fail or lose NEASC Accreditation?
Yes. While the language of NEASC accreditation tends to be developmental in nature and recognizes that different schools will demonstrate different levels of quality, we are strict in particular about our schools aligning with our Foundation Standards. As a school moves toward later stages of the accreditation cycle, we also consider seriously how evident are the 4 Cs: Conceptual Understanding, Commitment, Capacity, and Competence.
For schools struggling to maintain sufficient progress toward accreditation or re-accreditation, we may require Special Reports and/or Special Visits. Schools may also be placed on Warning or Probation as determined by NEASC. Schools deemed by NEASC to fall short of our Standards are given opportunities to meet expectations before we would terminate a school’s accreditation journey and remove them from our directory of Candidate/Member schools.
What do you mean by "learners"? Is it only students?
NEASC has been intentional with the language we use. We believe that a NEASC-aligned school is characterized by a community of learners. Ideally, all adults including staff, teachers, parents, and board members as well as all children are constantly learning, adapting, and trying new things. The organization itself is also learning, reflecting, and improving itself to better serve everyone in the community.
We encourage schools and NEASC Visitors to approach accreditation with all learners in mind, not just the students.
What should a school know about having a Shared Understanding of High-Quality Learning?
One of the key products for schools, particularly those engaging with ACE Learning, is the development of a Shared Understanding of High-Quality Learning. NEASC previously referred to this as a Definition of Learning. Our initial years of experience supporting ACE journeys by schools around the world have helped us clarify the process.
A school’s Shared Understanding is supported by a description of the specific pedagogy, chosen by the school, that is used to achieve the desired goals.
In ACE Learning Schools, the Shared Understanding of High-Quality Learning is grounded in the ten ACE Learning Principles and Impacts, as well as other Impacts a school might have chosen. As the community develops its shared understanding, it can more easily identify the Major Learning Plans that are designed to close the gap between what the school aspires to and its current reality. For schools new to NEASC, this Shared Understanding is not expected to be fully developed until the beginning of the Internal Reflection, and then to be re-assessed every five years.
View the ACE Ecosystem 2.0 document for more details:
How should schools set up their Internal Reflection Committees?
There are several factors involved in how schools choose to set up their committees for the 12-18 month Internal Reflection that leads to the External Review Visit. The goal is to involve the whole community in some way in the process. Ideally a workshop that includes all stakeholder groups would be held toward the end of the Internal Reflection as the school's report takes final shape.
The size of your learning community is one factor to consider. Some schools organize their committees around clusters of ACE Learning Principles, while others have ten separate committees, one for each Learning Principle. The process is yours, so you can organize it in any way that will be meaningful to your community.
- If you are a current or future school accreditation coordinator or school head wishing to pick up tips and tricks from an experienced accreditation coordinator for the internal reflection process, you may be interested in viewing this webinar:
During the ACE Internal Reflection period, a school needs to develop 4-6 Major Learning Plans. What does that mean?
First, for each of the ten Learning Principles, a school is asked to develop plans that are aligned with each Principle and that will help the school reach the goals it has articulated as "Where we want to be". After reviewing the range of plans developed for each Learning Principle, the school — most likely led by the ACE Design Team (steering committee) — develops 4-6 Major Learning Plans that draw on the plans expressed for each Principle.
In some cases, plans for a few of the ten Principles may coalesce into one of Major Learning Plans. In other cases, a school may identify individual plans aligned with Learning Principles that would have the greatest positive impact on learning at the school, and considers those plans the ‘Major Learning Plans’. The learning community's collective efforts in the following months and years aim to achieve the goals expressed in these plans.
What should we know before offering a US-style high school diploma?
First, NEASC is proud to have shared in the development of many of the structures of modern American secondary schooling through our involvement with the Committee of Ten (1894) that clarified guidelines on high school curriculum and pedagogy; the College Entrance Examination Board (1900) that oversees today’s AP and SAT tests; and other early 20th century American innovations, including K-12 accreditation itself.
Today, as in the past, accreditation by NEASC shows that a school both meets high international standards and enjoys official recognition by the oldest accrediting agency in the US — a status considered essential by post-secondary institutions around the world, as well as by many international education ministries. While NEASC technically accredits schools and not diplomas, we encourage schools to share their NEASC Accreditation status with all interested parties and on relevant documents including student diplomas and transcripts. In particular, schools offering a four-year American-style high school program are well advised to obtain and maintain NEASC Accreditation. [View "The Value of K-12 Accreditation"]
For more information on offering a high school diploma, please contact email@example.com.
Does NEASC operate only in English?
While NEASC documentation, reporting and visits are conducted almost exclusively in English, the Commission on International Education team includes staff proficient in Spanish, French, Italian, and Greek. When possible, NEASC team members who speak other key languages of a school are asked to facilitate conversations during school visits with stakeholders who may be less comfortable in English. Bilingual schools and others offering at least 50% of their curriculum in English are encouraged to apply for NEASC Accreditation.
Does NEASC offer consulting to schools outside of the usual accreditation work?
NEASC offers a limited amount of consulting outside of the usual accreditation work. While all schools receive a short leadership workshop during their Preparatory visits, some schools would like more support to introduce the ideas of NEASC ACE Learning to their community or to take the conversation deeper. We are open to discussing the specific needs of a school, but the following is a list of workshops we commonly offer:
- Introduction to ACE Learning (full day)
- Deep Dive into a few ACE Learning Principles (1 day or more)
- Developing a Shared Understanding of High-Quality Learning (half or full day)
- Collaborative Learning Protocol: Connecting the IB, the ACE Learning Principles and your school’s Mission
- Setting your school up for success: Introduction to the Foundation Standards (workshop for leadership teams and owners)
How is the Accreditation process different during re-accreditation?
When a school is accredited by NEASC, there are several ways that the process is adapted for subsequent cycles:
- Schools accredited on the Standard pathway will generally enter the ACE Learning Pathway for their next cycle rather than continue on the Standard pathway.
- At approximately the four-year mark after initial NEASC accreditation, schools will be scheduled for a Preparatory Visit. During this Visit, the school will conduct an abbreviated Foundation Standards Review in addition to the Preparatory report and visit. This ensures that NEASC-accredited schools maintain alignment with the Foundation Standards.
- Schools that are utilizing the ACE Learning pathway for the second round will focus on only five of the ten Learning Principles in their Internal Reflection process, in recognition of the school’s previous work and desire to focus further on certain areas.
Can an online school obtain NEASC accreditation?
Yes. As educational models have shifted, NEASC has adjusted to meet the accreditation needs of online schools. Online schools follow the ACE Learning pathway for NEASC accreditation, a framework that is well suited to the innovative world of online learning. Online schools must meet the same Foundation Standards as brick-and-mortar schools, but in a contextually appropriate way.
NEASC considers applications from online schools who:
- have been fully operational for at least two full years
- offer a full-time educational experience to students via an online experience
- function as a learning community where relationships between stakeholders are strong
- are able to benefit from the NEASC accreditation process including a rigorous Internal Reflection process
- are legally authorized to operate as an online school in the headquarters location
- offer an English-Medium curriculum that is publicly accessible for students from a variety of countries
If your online school is interested in NEASC accreditation, the first step is to set up a call to discuss the school’s eligibility to apply. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.