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International School Accreditation

How is ACE Learning different from previous protocols, and why isn’t it referred to as the 9th Edition?

ACE Learning signals a fundamental shift in how NEASC approaches accreditation of international schools. Each previous edition was a slight improvement on its predecessor. ACE isn’t just an improvement; 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 essentials that schools must have in place in order to proceed to the next stage of accreditation. This is the section most similar to compliance-oriented prior protocols;
  • Outlining Learning Principles that are aspirational in nature and that challenge schools to transform practices in alignment with these Principles;
  • Looking for impacts on learners, and not merely on the various compliance-focused inputs and outputs as we have done in the past;
  • Offering a dashboard to indicate where on the continuum a school is, in relation to each of the Learning Principles;
  • Inviting schools to develop Major Learning Plans instead of producing a traditional 12-18 month self-study.

What is the sequence of the accreditation cycle?

For most schools currently accredited by NEASC, the first ACE Learning assignment will be the Learning Principles Report (LPR) due four weeks before the Learning Principles Visit – formerly called the “Preparatory (or Preliminary) Visit”. That visit is followed by the 12- to 18-month Internal Reflection (formerly called “Self-Study”). The school submits its Internal Reflection via the ACE Portal six weeks prior to the External Review Visit (formerly called “Team Visit”).

The External Review Visit (ERV) features a NEASC team of 4-6 Accreditation Visitors, trained and appointed by NEASC, who spend four days at the school engaged in observations and structured conversations with the learning community. The ERV culminates in a report commenting on the Learning Principles and on the school’s Major Learning Plans. For schools accredited only by NEASC, we also require a Foundation Standards Update to be completed by the school and checked by the visitors. For new applicants to be accredited only by NEASC, a Foundation Standards Visit is the first step. In Year 4 following the External Review Visit, the cycle continues with a Learning Principles Visit.

Who conducts accreditation visits?

At the heart of NEASC Accreditation are the peer reviewers which conduct the bulk of our school visits. NEASC volunteers are 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 in-person training plus additional written work. Newly qualified visitors are usually paired with an experienced visitor for their first NEASC visit. 

What are the 4 Cs of ACE Learning and what do they have to do with the process?

NEASC Visitors look for progress on the Continuum for each Learning Principle, but they also look for evidence of the 4 Cs which are:

  • conceptual understanding of learning
  • commitment to the transformational process
  • a capacity for change
  • competence to achieve it

If we know our school has a long way to go on the continuum, are we in trouble? Can a school fail NEASC Accreditation?

ACE Learning is meant to be aspirational, and recognizes that different schools will demonstrate different levels of alignment with the various Learning Principles, some at one end of the continuum ("Not Evident" or "Thinking About It") and others closer to the other end ("Living It" or "What If?"). The more likely stumbling block for a school will be in meeting the five Foundation Standards or by showing too little evidence of the 4 Cs of ACE Learning: Conceptual Understanding, Commitment, Capacity, Competence.

For the small number of schools who may require more focus on building strong Foundations, NEASC offers an alternative route to accreditation called the Standard Pathway. NEASC staff will assist schools in determining which pathway is most appropriate for their first round of accreditation. 

What do you mean by "learners"? Is it only students?

NEASC has been intentional with the language we use. We believe that an ACE-aligned school is characterized by a community of learners. 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. 

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 year-long 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 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. 

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. (One example from an ACE-aligned school: "Cultivate a culture of coaching"). 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.

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.