Accrediting Commission for Schools, WASC

ACS WASC accredits K-12 schools and non-degree granting postsecondary institutions

 About ACS WASC Accreditation: Overview


The Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC) is one of six regional accrediting associations in the United States. The Commission provides assistance to schools located in California, Hawaii, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and East Asia.

ACS WASC extends its services to public, independent, church-related, and proprietary schools of the following levels and types: elementary schools; junior high/middle/intermediate schools, comprehensive/college preparatory high schools, continuation high schools, alternative high schools, occupational/vocational high schools, regional occupational programs/centers, adult schools, and vocational skill centers. Many of the schools accredited also include postsecondary courses, e.g., courses which require a high school diploma or G.E.D.

The Commission consists of up to thirty-two persons selected by the Commission's Review Committee from candidates nominated by member organizations or the Commission. The representatives are from the following areas and educational associations:

  • Association of California School Administrators
  • Association of Christian Schools International
  • California Association of Independent Schools
  • California Association of Private School Organizations
  • California Congress of Parents and Teachers, Inc.
  • California Department of Education
  • California Federation of Teachers
  • California School Boards Association
  • California Teachers Association
  • Charter Schools
  • East Asia Regional Council of Schools
  • Hawaii Association of Independent Schools
  • Hawaii Government Employees' Association
  • Hawaii State Department of Education
  • National Lutheran School Accreditation
  • Pacific Islands
  • Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
  • Postsecondary Education
  • Public Members (Five public members in addition to the PTA member)
  • Western Catholic Educational Association

The Purpose of Accreditation

Accreditation is a term that originally meant trustworthiness in its middle French, Old Italian usage. The original purpose of accreditation in the United States was designed to encourage the standardization of secondary school programs, primarily to ensure for the benefit of colleges and universities that graduating students had mastered a particular body of knowledge. However, today the process developed by the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC), involves a dual purpose that continues the expectation that schools must be worthy of the trust placed in them to provide high quality learning opportunities, but with the added requirement that they clearly demonstrate that they are about the critical business of continual self-improvement.

Ultimately, the accreditation process is all about fostering excellence in the elementary, secondary, adult, postsecondary and supplementary education programs we accredit. Our fundamental cause involves helping schools meaningfully create the highest quality learning experience they can envision for all students. It is ACS WASC's consistent purpose to professionally support schools in creating for themselves a clear vision of what they desire their students to know and be able to do and then to ensure that efficient and relevant systems are in place that predictably result in the fulfillment of those expectations for every child.

The capacity of any organization to improve is directly related to its ability to recognize, acknowledge, and act on its identified strengths and limitations. The accreditation process is a vehicle that enables schools to improve student learning and school performance based on an analysis of those strengths and limitations. Participating schools must meet rigorous, research-based standards that reflect the essential elements of a quality and effective school, but again, must also be able to demonstrate engagement in as well as capacity to provide continuous school improvement.



The Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC) believes that the goal of any school should be to provide for successful student learning. Programs encompassing both the cognitive and affective components of learning should foster human growth and development and enable students to become responsible, productive members of the school community and of society. Each school should develop a school purpose to reflect its beliefs. For ongoing program improvement, each school should engage in objective and subjective internal and external evaluations to assess progress in achieving its purpose.

The Commission grants accreditation to a school based upon the following:

The presumption that the primary goals of accreditation are

  • Certification to the public that the school is a trustworthy institution of learning
  • The improvement of the school's programs and operations to support student learning.

The school's self-study and the visiting committee report provides compelling evidence that:

  • The school is substantially accomplishing its stated purposes and functions identified as appropriate for an institution of its type
  • The school is meeting an acceptable level of quality in accordance with the WASC criteria adopted by the Accrediting Commission.


Through ACS WASC's evaluation of institutions, ACS WASC accreditation assures the educational community, the general public, and other organizations and agencies that an institution has clearly defined objectives appropriate to education; has established conditions under which their achievement can reasonably be expected; appears in fact to be accomplishing them substantially; is so organized, staffed, and supported that it can be expected to continue to do so; and demonstrates that it meets ACS WASC's criteria and accreditation standards. ACS WASC encourages and supports institutional development and improvement through an institutional self-evaluation using the accreditation criteria and policies, as well as mid-cycle, follow-up, and special reports, and periodic evaluation of institutional quality by qualified peer professionals.


The Accrediting Commission for Schools accredits primarily public and private schools located in California, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, the Republic of Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and American and international schools in Asia and the Pacific. When invited and when circumstances suggest the feasibility and appropriateness of the relationship, the Commission will authorized staff to work with schools in areas of the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

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full accreditation  Initial Accreditation Process

After reviewing the ACS WASC Conditions of Eligibility, interested institutions, and supplementary education programs should complete the Request for ACS WASC Affiliation form and return the completed form to the ACS WASC office. Private schools must meet the legal requirements of the jurisdiction in which they are located.

For example, California private schools must list with the California State Department of Education and submit an affidavit indicating compliance with Education Code section 33190. Likewise, Hawaii private schools must be licensed by the Hawaii Council of Private Schools, or certified by the Western Catholic Educational Association and accredited in association with the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, under the authority of Act 188, Session Laws of Hawaii, 1995. Schools in other jurisdictions may have other specific requirements with which they must comply.

If it is determined that an institution or program may be eligible for affiliation with ACS WASC, an Initial Visit School Description report template will be sent for completion

On receipt of the completed report and approval to proceed, the Executive Director will arrange with the institution for a two-member team to conduct a one-day visit to the institution. At this time the team will evaluate if the institution is eligible for accreditation. Following the visit, the visiting committee will prepare a report to present to ACS WASC for action. This report will include recommendations regarding the institution's ongoing improvement. The institution will be notified by the Executive Director regarding the action of the Commission. If the Commission's action is favorable, the institution will be granted either Candidate for accreditation or Initial accreditation, for a term not to exceed three years.

Candidate for accreditation is a status of affiliation which indicates that an institution has achieved initial recognition and is progressing toward, but does not assume, accreditation. The candidate for accreditation classification is designed for institutions which do not currently fully meet ACS WASC criteria for full accreditation. The institution must provide evidence of sound planning, provide evidence of resources to implement these plans, and appear to have the potential for attaining its goals within a reasonable time. A candidate school is required to submit an annual report and is expected to apply for full accreditation by the third year of candidacy. Candidacy status shall expire at the end of three years.

Initial accreditation may be granted for up to three years to institutions which meet the organizational and support criteria for full accreditation and have a history and support system which indicate that a high quality program can be sustained into the foreseeable future. An institution with initial accreditation is expected to undergo a full self-study evaluation in the last year of the Initial accreditation period.

full accreditation  Full Accreditation Process

Each institution is evaluated on the basis of the ACS WASC criteria and the appropriateness of the school’s stated purpose, schoolwide student goals and the degree to which it accomplishes these.

The full accreditation process has three stages: the self-study, the visit, and the follow-up. A school’s philosophy and the ACS WASC criteria serve as the underlying bases for these stages.


While ACS WASC publishes its own evaluation instruments, an institution which applies for full accreditation may be provided with a choice of documents that have been designed in cooperation with educators from the various schools/organizations to meet their unique needs. In carrying out its accreditation functions, ACS WASC works cooperatively with several educational agencies:

  • Association of Christian Schools International
  • Association of Christian Teachers and Schools
  • Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
  • Bureau of Jewish Education
  • California Association of Independent Schools
  • California Department of Education
  • Christian Schools International
  • Council of International Schools
  • Council on Occupational Education
  • East Asia Regional Council of Schools
  • Golden State Association of Christian Schools
  • Golden State Christian School Accrediting Association
  • Hawaii Department of Education
  • Hawaii Association of Independent Schools
  • Lutheran Schools, Missouri Synod
  • National Lutheran School Association
  • Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
  • Western Catholic Educational Association

The entire staff and representatives of the student body and community are involved in the preparation of the self-study, which is accomplished over a period of several months. ACS WASC provides ┬átraining workshops to assist schools in conducting the self-study. During this phase, all staff members candidly assess the school’s strengths and areas needing improvement with respect to the criteria. Basically, the steps of the self-study are:

  1. Understand the school improvement purpose of the self-study
  2. Analyze and understand the criteria
  3. Develop, clarify, and assess accomplishment of schoolwide student goals (learner outcomes )
  4. Compare the school program to the criteria
    a. Collect and analyze verifying information
    b. Analyze and deliberate the results of the comparison
    c. Agree on the status of the program
    d. Agree on strengths and areas for improvement
  5. Develop a schoolwide action plan to increase the effectiveness of the program for students
    a. Decide on priorities based on self-study findings
    b. Discuss possible solution steps
    c. Agree on the action to be taken, by whom and when
    d. Agree on ways to monitor and assess progress

Working through numerous committees, staff members summarize their finding of this in-depth assessment which becomes part of a school self-study report. At least four weeks prior to the visit, this completed self-study is shared with members of a visiting committee composed of fellow educators.

  Full Self-Study Visit

The visiting committee is usually composed of three to eight people, one of whom is the chairperson. A typical visiting committee is composed of a school principal, a district office administrator, a classroom teacher, a school administrator other than a principal, a representative of a college or university, plus additional members who may be representatives of a state department of education, a county office, or board members. A student may be added to the committee at the request of the school principal. Members of the visiting committee will have attended special accreditation workshops conducted by ACS WASC.

Subsequent to analyzing the self-study report, the visiting committee spends three and one-half days at the school to provide an outside perspective on the quality of the curricular and instructional program provided for students. The visiting committee members review student performance data, confer separately with each school committee, observe the school in operation, visit classes, and dialogue with individual administrators, teachers, students and others. Then the visiting committee prepares a report for the school outlining its findings.

After the visiting committee report is discussed with the school steering committee and shared with the entire staff, it is formally submitted to the school and the ACS WASC Commission. The visiting committee also recommends a status of accreditation based upon the school’s philosophy, the ACS WASC criteria, the self-study, and its findings during the visit.

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action and followup  Commission Action and School Follow-up

The Accrediting Commission for Schools meets at regularly scheduled times to consider accreditation for the schools. Prior to each meeting, the Commission members review the visiting committee reports and the status recommendations for the schools. At these sessions, the school’s self-studies are available for reference. The resulting decision of the Commission on a status of accreditation for each school is the composite judgment of the Commission members after examining the data concerning the school.

Accreditation status is based in part upon the appropriateness of the school’s stated purpose, goals and objectives for an institution of its type and the degree to which these are being met. Another determinant for accreditation is the degree to which the school meets the ACS WASC criteria and other accreditation status factors that are established as general guidelines to determine the effectiveness of a school’s educational program and services.

The Commission also takes into consideration: the degree to which the school addressed recommendations of the last visiting committee; the school's use of appropriate student outcome measures to demonstrate evidence of student learning and success; the degree of involvement of all members of the school community in development of the self-study; and the capacity of the school to implement a schoolwide action plan resulting in ongoing improvement. The cycle of self-study, visit and follow-up is normally repeated every six years. To support and encourage continual school improvement, the Commission will communicate with schools during the cycle through written reports and short visits.

A school may only appeal the decision of the Commission to grant probationary accreditation status or accreditation status withheld. A letter is to be directed to the Commission by the chief administrator(s) of the district and school within sixty (60) calendar days of receipt of the letter of notification of the action by the Commission, stating the basis for the appeal. A check in the amount of the appeal fee shall accompany the letter of appeal

After the self-study visit the SC and chief administrator meet immediately with the Leadership Team to review the visiting committee report and begin the follow-up process. The Leadership Team coordinates the refining and implementation of the action steps for each section of the schoolwide action plan. The narrative suggestions and critical areas for follow-up left by the visiting committee should be integrated into the schoolwide action plan. A copy of the modified schoolwide action plan must be sent to the ACS WASC office.

Some schools may continue to use the schoolwide focus groups from the basic ACS WASC process as "change agent" committees in the follow-up process. The leadership team involves the total staff in annual assessment of progress, including data analysis about student learning in relation to schoolwide learner outcomes and curricular objectives; this may result in modifications of the action plan. If the school annually reviews its plan and progress, the reports generated will comprise the major portion of the next self-study. Most schools will conduct one more annual review in relation to their schoolwide learner outcomes, curricular objectives, and ACS WASC criteria and refine their action plan areas for the next three to five years.

At the midpoint of the accreditation cycle, the Leadership Team prepares a mid-cycle progress report summarizing the school's major accomplishments of the schoolwide action plan and other changes since the visit. The Governing Authority reads, reviews and formally accepts the report which is forwarded to the Accrediting Commission for Schools. Depending upon the status of accreditation, a school may be required to have a one or two day review by two or more members of the original Visiting Committee.

Below are brief comments about the ongoing nature of the accreditation process:

  1. Annually update the student/community profile and discuss with all stakeholders.
  2. Annually summarize progress on the schoolwide action plan sections, noting key evidence, and make any necessary modifications or refinements in the plan.
  3. Periodically, review the schoolwide student goals (schoolwide learner outcomes ) and school purpose.
  4. Synthesize all progress and complete a three-year progress report for submission to WASC; obtain Board approval of the report.
  5. Host a mid-cycle visit if this is a condition of the accreditation status granted. (Note: If a school received one or two year probationary accreditation, progress reports and two-day visits are conducted. The Commission then grants additional years of accreditation, one additional year of probationary accreditation may be granted, or accreditation may be withheld).
  6. In preparation for the next self-study (usually 1 1/2 years prior to full visit), ensure that all stakeholders are knowledgeable of student achievement data and other current data, including progress on all aspects of the action plan. Utilize the following information with stakeholders:
    a) current, updated student/community profile, emphasizing student achievement, and other pertinent evidence noted during the annual progress reports on the action plan
    b) the operating schoolwide action plan
    c) all progress via reports (usually an ongoing summary of action plan progress on computer)
  7. Using the ACS WASC criteria involve stakeholders through focus and home groups in the examination of the program using the information from the past years about student achievement and program changes (see 6). Gather and analyze any additional data/information needed.
  8. Summarize key findings organized by the categories of criteria.
  9. Revise the schoolwide action plan to show what will be accomplished during the forthcoming five-six years.
  10. Finalize the self-study report that will include:
    a) The current profile
    b) Overall progress report
    c) Schoolwide student learner outcomes (schoolwide learner outcomes)
    d) Findings and supporting evidence
    e) Revised schoolwide action plan
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