Answers to commonly asked questions about Independent School Accreditation
What schools are the members of the Commission on Independent Schools?
The Commission on Independent Schools is composed of non-public elementary and secondary schools in New England that are accredited by NEASC. The membership is very diverse and includes: elementary and secondary; day and boarding; coed, boys, and girls; secular and religious (Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Episcopal, Seventh Day Adventist); college preparatory and special education; not-for-profit and proprietary; quasi-public town academies; Waldorf and Montessori.
A full list with links to individual schools may be found in the CIS School Directory.
Who makes decisions regarding Accreditation?
The Visiting Teams
A committee of peers conduct the on-site assessments of institutions to evaluate their alignment with Accreditation Standards.
The NEASC Commissioners
Commissioners, professional peers nominated from the educational community, approve the accreditation status of each member school based on reports generated by the Visiting Teams.
The NAIS Commission on Accreditation
The Commission on Independent Schools is a member of the NAIS Commission on Accreditation, composed of 19 state, regional, and international associations that accredit independent schools. The NAIS Commission establishes Criteria for Effective Accreditation Practices to which members must adhere. NEASC/CIS completed a review by the NAIS Commission in 2002 and again in 2014 that included a self-study, a review by outside evaluators who observed school visits, office procedures, and a Commission meeting; and follow-up reports on the response to recommendations. As a result, the accreditation program of the NEASC Commission on Independent Schools is recognized by the NAIS Board.
How can I get information about a school’s accreditation status and/or copies of its accreditation reports?
A school’s accreditation status is listed in the CIS Directory of Schools, along with the year the school was first accredited and the year of the last full accreditation review. Schools are in good standing, unless there is a notation that they are on Probation. Accreditation reports and correspondence are the property of the school and are released by the school at its discretion.
How long does it take to become accredited through CIS?
Once a school has been granted recognition as a Candidate for Accreditation and has completed necessary preliminary work such as articulating its mission, curriculum, and various policies, the accreditation process takes 12 to 18 months. The school involves the entire community in a structured self-study, usually taking a full academic year, that examines every aspect of school life, assesses compliance with the NEASC Standards, and sets goals for school improvement. The school submits its self-study to the Commission on Independent Schools and hosts a visiting committee of educators from other member schools appointed by NEASC. This committee, usually numbering from 6 to 12 teachers and administrators, validates the self-study, independently assesses the school’s compliance with the Standards, and writes a report to the school and the Commission with commendations and recommendations. The Commission reviews the self-study and the report of the visiting committee in determining the school’s accreditation status. Schools must meet all Standards to be granted accreditation.
Do the New England states recognize NEASC Accreditation?
Yes. All of the New England states recognize NEASC Accreditation of independent schools as part of their school approval process.
Does NEASC accredit Early Childhood Programs?
No, NEASC does not accredit programs serving students below the age of three. Although NEASC is accrediting a wider range of schools than during its early years, the focus of the NEASC accreditation process is on the experience of students in preschool and older.
Some independent schools - accredited through the NEASC Commission on Independent Schools - which serve infants and/or toddlers have received joint accreditation with the American Montessori Society (AMS), have sought additional accreditation through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), or are licensed by the State. All of these options provide quality assurances for early childhood programs. We recognize that the governance and infrastructure of a school support all students regardless of age, and the school culture and climate facilitate the growth of all students regardless of age. We also acknowledge that there are programmatic and health and safety considerations which are best overseen by either AMS, NAEYC, and/or State Early Childhood Departments. The NEASC Commission on Independent Schools requires schools which serve children below the age of three to demonstrate compliance with state standards and state mandates for early childhood programs, and encourages these schools to additionally work with an agency which specifically focuses on early childhood programs.
How do parents choose a school?
Independent schools offer families a wide choice including large/small, secular/religious, boarding/day, coed/single sex, rural/urban. Further, individual schools have distinctive missions, different emphases in curriculum, and feature particular pedagogical approaches and extracurricular programs. To choose the right school, families need to seek a match between the interests/needs of their child and the character/offerings of a school.
How can I file a complaint against a NEASC member school?
The Commission on Independent Schools has a Policy on Complaints. Briefly, the Commission cannot intervene on behalf of individuals, but will inquire into allegations that a school is not in compliance with one or more of the Standards for Accreditation. Written complaints should be submitted to the Director of the Commission. For more information, including mailing address and fax number, please see the Complaint Policy page.
How can I find out if a school is on probation?
A school is placed on Probation if the Commission finds that it is not in compliance with one or more Standards and fails to remedy the situation within one year. Probation is a public status that is noted in the Directory of Schools.
Do schools have alternatives to NEASC for accreditation?
Yes. A number of associations of like-minded schools offer accreditation services in New England. These include Montessori and Waldorf schools. There are also associations of Christian schools. Often schools seek joint accreditation with NEASC and one of these agencies, with the school completing the full NEASC self-study, adding a supplement to examine the special focus, and hosting a visiting committee representing both associations.
Within New England, NEASC cooperates with the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS-CT) which also accredits elementary schools in Connecticut and with the Association of Independent Schools in New England (AISNE) which also accredits elementary schools, primarily in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Elsewhere in the country there are state and regional associations that are allied with NEASC through the NAIS Commission on Accreditation and there are the other five regional associations that, like NEASC, accredit the full range of public and non-public schools and colleges.
Unfortunately, there are also unscrupulous groups that offer “accreditation” for a price, with very little attention to standards of quality or to school improvement.
Requirements for day schools with international students
“Over the last five years, our day school has added a number of international students to our student body. We now have seventeen kids. We have been fortunate to work with an agency who has served our school and our international kids very well. The agency recruits the students for us and makes all their travel arrangements. The agency also finds host families for our students’ homestays and we haven’t had to worry about this at all. We regard our international students as day students – exactly like all our other kids. This all being said, as we read the language in “Standard 8 – Residential Program and/or Homestay Program” we have some suspicion – even though we are day school – we should now be meeting this Standard. Is it true that a day school with international students, even though all the arrangements are made by an agency, should meet the requirements of Residential/Homestay Program of Standard 8?”
In a word, “yes.” And, yes, too, this has become one of our most frequently asked questions. Over the last decade or so, increasing numbers of day schools have added international students to their populations. Some schools have recruited these students – mainly from China, Korea and a few other Asian countries – themselves but more have relied on Agencies for this work.
In terms of recruitment, schools have learned, sometimes painfully, that not all agencies are equal. Some do excellent work fitting students to the mission and requirements of a particular school; some others, sadly, have been more interested in their placement fees than in finding students actually ready to be full-fledged members of an English speaking school community.
Most schools with whom we work have become much more sophisticated in their work with agencies. Many schools, for instance, conduct their own interviews by Skype with prospective students. A few schools have the resources to send – or hire – their own representatives to interview international kids sent to them by agencies. “Double checking” before students actually arrive is simply good practice for all.
- Physically inspect the living conditions of international students – at least twice a year if not more frequently; international students should be living in reasonable accommodations, not in basements or attics; they should not have to share bathroom facilities with adults in the house
- Insure that international students are being fed nutritiously and regularly
- Insure that each adult in a host family has been through a CORI check
- Insure by both thorough orientation and on-going communication that host families have a clear understanding of school policies and procedures
- Insure that each international student has a designated advisor or specific international student coordinator to whom he or she can speak confidentially and openly; for students whose English may not be entirely fluent it is the responsibility of the host school to have a translator on campus who can speak directly with students.
- Be sure lines of communication with students’ families are direct. In many cases this will require a school to use a translator to insure that families understand calendars, school policies and be up-to-date on anything that affects their child. Schools must understand it can be very difficult for international families to have their children so far from home and must make specific efforts to reach out to them.
Many schools are doing exceptional work with their international students. These schools have created programs that engage international students with the local communities at many levels – from volunteer work to regular cultural excursions. And many have taken clear and often imaginative steps, particularly to engage these young people on weekends and during short vacation periods. We encourage schools to keep in mind that it is not the mission of International students to “add diversity” to a school. They come to engage with American education and to learn as much as they can about another culture – while, surely, bringing essential insights with them.
The growing population of international kids throughout our independent school world brings special opportunities and particular responsibilities and it is important for schools to understand that the presence of international students in their community brings the absolute necessity to understand that they are NOT “day students just like the other kids.” They don’t live with their parents and they are far from home. Relying on the work of agencies may be a very reasonable first step. But ALL schools must recognize the intention of the Homestay Standard is to insure the distinctive needs of international students – whether it is five kids or seventy-five - are being met.