Accrediting Commission for Schools, WASC

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

 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Some of our most frequently asked questions:




What is accreditation?

Accreditation is a voluntary dual-purpose process that schools (1) must be worthy of the trust placed in them to provide high-quality learning opportunities and (2) clearly demonstrate continual self-improvement.

An accredited school is focused on a mission and goals for students; it is student-oriented and examines its students' performance continuously; it accepts objective evaluation from a team of outside peer professionals trained by WASC; it maintains a qualified faculty within an effectively organized school; it collaboratively assesses the quality of its educational programs on a regular basis; and it plans for the future.

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Who benefits from accreditation?

Everyone. ACS WASC accreditation is a valuable service to the public, students and educational institutions themselves.

For example:

  • The public is assured that accredited institutions are evaluated extensively and conform to general expectations of performance and quality. Because accreditation requires continual self-evaluation, frequent reports, and periodic external review, the public can be assured that the educational quality of programs and services offered by the institution are current, reflect high standards of quality, and are offered with integrity.
  • Students can be assured that the institutions in which they seek to enroll have been reviewed and the educational programs that are offered have been evaluated for quality.
  • Educational institutions benefit from the stimulus for self-study and self-improvement provided by the accreditation process.
Also helpful is the ongoing counsel provided by the accreditation commissions and the hundreds of peer experts used in the process of external evaluation.

Accreditation status also increases opportunities for public and private funding for both the institution and students and enhances the institution’s credibility and reputation.

See About ACS WASC Accreditation: Why Accreditation.

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What is ACS WASC?

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 ACS WASC 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, Fiji, Asia, and other parts of the world.

See also About ACS WASC Accreditation: Overview.

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What if I have a question about a college or university?

Please contact the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities directly. They can be found on the web at www.wascsenior.org and reached by telephone at 510-748-9001.

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What if I have a question about a community or junior college?

Please contact the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges directly. They can be found on the web at www.accjc.org and reached by telephone at 415-506-0234.

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What connection exists between ACS WASC and the state departments of education, the federal government, and other governmental agencies?

ACS WASC is not a governmental agency but does work collaboratively with state governments and divisions of the federal government such as the Department of Education and the Department of State.

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What types of schools are accredited by ACS WASC?

ACS WASC extends its services to 4,500 public, independent, church-related, and proprietary schools of the following levels and types:

  • Elementary schools
  • Junior high, middle, and intermediate schools
  • Comprehensive and college preparatory high schools
  • Continuation high schools
  • Alternative education schools
  • Charter schools
  • Private and religious schools
  • Online Schools
  • Occupational/vocational high schools
  • Regional occupational programs/centers
  • Adult and postsecondary schools, vocational skill centers
  • Supplementary Education Programs/Centers

ACS WASC works collaboratively with seventeen associations.

See About ACS WASC Accreditation: Overview.

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Does ACS WASC accredit preschools?

Yes, but currently preschools are only accredited when they are part of a multiple grades school. Please contact the ACS WASC office for more details.

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Does ACS WASC accredit home schools?

ACS WASC allows for the accreditation of independent study programs and/or homeschool programs that meet the following criteria:

  • Continuation schools, alternative schools, and independent study schools that are connected to public school districts, including those that offer a home-study program, are eligible for accreditation provided the program has been included in the school's self-study evaluation within the ACS WASC accreditation process. The school must provide oversight of curriculum and delivery of instruction and be responsible for student grades, transcripts, and analysis of assessment results.
  • Private schools that offer independent study as their primary instructional delivery system are eligible for accreditation if they meet all ACS WASC private school criteria and possess a #CDS from the California Department of Education. The school must provide oversight of curriculum and delivery of instruction and be responsible for student grades, transcripts, and analysis of assessment results.
  • Charter schools (public or private) that offer independent study as their primary instructional delivery system are eligible for accreditation if they meet all ACS WASC criteria and possess a #CDS from the California Department of Education. The school must provide oversight of curriculum and delivery of instruction and be responsible for student grades, transcripts, and analysis of assessment results.
  • Private Satellite Programs (PSPs) that are directly connected to an ACS WASC-accredited private school are eligible for accreditation, provided the program has been included in the school's self-study evaluation within the ACS WASC accreditation process. The school must provide oversight of curriculum and delivery of instruction and be responsible for student grades, transcripts, and analysis of assessment results.

Individual homeschools where students are taught by parents at home are not eligible for ACS WASC accreditation.

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Does ACS WASC accredit small schools? How can small schools maximize their resources in order to conduct the ACS WASC self-study visit and the ongoing improvement process?

Yes, ACS WASC accredits small schools. However, in order to be eligible for ACS WASC affiliation, student enrollment must reach a minimum of 15 full-time students.

ACS WASC encourages schools to modify the suggested model self-study process as long as the school adheres to the outcomes or parameters of a quality self-study. These are listed below:

Many small schools conduct the self-study process and ongoing analysis of action plan progress as a committee of the whole. During the self-study process schools concentrate on one criteria category for a determined time period and then move to the other criteria. Usually, schools work with curriculum, instruction, and assessment initially as much information is gleaned that can be used in examination of the other programmatic areas.

  1. The involvement and collaboration of all staff and other shareholders to support student achievement
  2. The clarification and measurement of what all students should know, understand, and be able to do through schoolwide student goals (schoolwide learning outcomes)
  3. The gathering and analyzing of data about students and student achievement
  4. The assessment of the entire school program and its impact on student learning in relation to expected schoolwide learning results, academic standards, and the ACS WASC criteria
  5. The alignment of a long-range action plan to the school's areas of need; the development and implementation of an accountability system for monitoring the accomplishment of the plan

This is important to note because in November 2002 the University of California passed a policy that requires all schools that want UC approval of courses to meet the a-g requirements to be accredited by ACS WASC or at least be an initial ACS WASC candidate.

See also Why Accreditation.

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How does the ACS WASC operate?

Under the direction of the ACS WASC Commission, the Accrediting Commission for Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACS WASC) is responsible for its own administrative structure and fiscal policy. The Commission is responsible for taking accrediting actions, selecting its own executive director and associates and all support staff, promulgating its own criteria or standards, adopting guidelines for institutional self-study, and developing and implementing procedures for improvement of the accreditation process.

The Commission board that is composed of thirty-two representatives from educational organizations with whom ACS WASC collaborates and four public members, meets three times a year. The operating funds come from yearly fees paid by schools to maintain their accreditation.

See About ACS WASC Accreditation: Overview

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What are the criteria used to evaluate all schools?

The criteria are research-based guidelines of systemic school improvement that address accreditation’s central tenet: a school operates with a clear understanding of its purpose.

The criteria were developed with the assistance of numerous practicing educational leaders and theorists. The objective was to develop criteria that brought attention to concepts and factors that differentiate between effective and ineffective schools. Since most formal education occurs in an institutional setting, factors that impact institutional effectiveness were considered along with curriculum, instructional strategies and assessment.

See About ACS WASC Accreditation: ACS WASC Criteria.

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What are the possible accreditation status options?

For most schools, ACS WASC accreditation is based on a six-year accreditation cycle, with a full Self-Study visit occurring every six years. For additional information regarding the WASC accreditation cycle see About ACS WASC Accreditation: ACS WASC Accreditation Cycle.

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What is the beginning date of accreditation?

ACS WASC accreditation begin on July 1 and expires on June 30. Most schools operate on a fiscal calendar that begins on July 1 and ends June 30. Because of the need for schools to be accredited for full academic years (which normally parallel fiscal years), the Commission grants accreditation status that coincides with the fiscal and academic calendars. ACS WASC accreditation is retroactive to cover the entire school year for the first year a school is accredited.

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What are the steps necessary to become accredited?

After reviewing the ACS WASC Conditions of Eligibility, interested schools and supplementary education programs should complete the ACS WASC Affiliation Request form and return the completed form to the ACS WASC office. Both of these documents as well as additional information can be found on the Getting Started with Accreditation page of our website.

If it is determined that the school may be eligible for affiliation with ACS WASC, an Initial Visit Application will be sent to the school for completion and submission to the ACS WASC office. On receipt of the forms and approval to proceed, the executive director will arrange for a two-member, one or two day visit to the school. Initial visits to newly established schools will not occur prior to the second semester of operation, i.e., a spring visit if a school opens in the fall. Following the visit, the committee will prepare a report to present to the Commission for action. This will include recommendations regarding the school’s ongoing improvement. The school will be notified by the executive director of the Commission’s action. If the Commission’s action is favorable, the school will be granted either candidacy or initial accreditation for a term not to exceed three years.

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How much does it cost to be accredited with ACS WASC?

ACS WASC charges annual membership fees. Schools seeking initial affiliation with ACS WASC leading to full accreditation shall pay a nonrefundable $150.00 application fee plus an initial visit fee of $600.00 (see the Getting Started with Accreditation page for further initial visit information). Visiting Committee fees are also charged when an accreditation visit is scheduled to take place. Please refer to the appropriate schedule for further fee information.

See ACS WASC Accreditation: ACS WASC Fees

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What information can ACS WASC provide about the schools that are accredited?

The only information released to the public about schools is found in the ACS WASC directory. Because ACS WASC is not a governmental agency, it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. More specific information can be obtained from the schools.

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Does ACS WASC require that teachers and administrators in public and private schools be fully credentialed by a governmental agency in order for the school to qualify for accreditation?

ACS WASC, requires that personnel be qualified for the position they hold and meet any requirements of governmental or private associations.

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What happens if a student attends a non-accredited schools and transfers to an accredited school within or outside the ACS WASC region?

At the elementary and middle school levels, the transfer of records and credits from a non-accredited school to an accredited school is usually not a problem; however, most accredited schools at the secondary level have policies to accept credits only from regionally accredited schools.

If a student comes from another part of the country or world, ACS WASC has reciprocal agreements with the five other regional associations. ACS WASC also recognizes some of the other national and international accrediting associations. Please contact the ACS WASC Office for further details.

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What happens to student records (transcripts) if a school closes?

Public school records would be transferred to the district or county office of education. In case of a consolidation of public schools, the records may be housed at the remaining school. In the case of certain religious schools that are part of a system (such as Catholic or Seventh-day Adventist schools) the records would be sent to the church headquarters.

Parents and students who have a concern about this issue should ask their school to supply them with information stating what plan they have for storing records in case the school should close. While the matter of retaining student records at the elementary and junior high school level is important, it is crucial at the high school level to know where school records (especially transcripts) will be housed for many years in the future.

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How are individuals selected to participate in accreditation visits?

ACS WASC maintains an extensive database of experienced professional educators from which to select accreditation team members. These individuals come from a variety of backgrounds—public and private education at all levels—including classroom teachers, administrators, college professors, school board members and others who have an intimate knowledge of educational trends and issues.

Team members are selected on the basis of their expertise and the type of school being evaluated. If a school is being jointly accredited with an agency such as the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools (HAIS) or with a religious organization, then the team members are selected collaboratively with the other agency. Team members are required to participate in ACS WASC-conducted training workshops so they will be thoroughly familiar with the ACS WASC evaluation process, and have an understanding of what is expected of them as a visiting team member.

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Are retired educators eligible to serve on accreditation visits?

Retired educators are still eligible to serve on accreditation visits. Their expertise has been a valuable asset to accreditation as well as coaching others new to the accreditation process.

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What is the process for filing complaints against accredited institutions?

See Contact Us: Complaints

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What is ACS WASC's role as a regulatory agency to investigate complaints against schools or school employees?

As an international accrediting agency, ACS WASC has a specific role to play in the education process. Its function is to measure the quality of student achievement and the supporting program in light of specific ACS WASC criteria established by the ACS WASC Commission. Accreditation by ACS WASC is an expression of confidence that an institution is trustworthy for high-quality student learning and that it meets or exceeds the Commission's standards of quality, integrity, and effectiveness. The Commission is concerned with institutional integrity and with performance consistent with Commission standards and policies. ACS WASC is focused on student learning results and continual school improvement.

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What complaints are under the jurisdiction of ACS WASC?

While ACS WASC cannot intervene in the internal procedures of institutions or act as a regulatory body, the ACS WASC Commission can and does respond to complaints regarding allegations of conditions at affiliated institutions that raise significant questions about the institution's compliance with the standards of conduct expected of an accredited institution. For example, ACS WASC investigates complaints that involve academic fraud, dishonesty in reporting grades, misrepresentation of academic programs and services offered, or disregard for ACS WASC criteria used to accredit all institutions. (ACS WASC Policy Subsection A15.1)

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What complaints are not under the jurisdiction of ACS WASC?

It is a common misunderstanding that ACS WASC is an authoritative, supervisory body that oversees schools and the implementation of all their policies and procedures. The authority over schools lies with the local school’s governing body, not with ACS WASC accreditation. All disputes, concerns, complaints, etc. must be addressed by the local board or governing body that has the authority to respond. ACS WASC is not a regulatory body that has authority over the day-to-day operations of schools. It is not a legal court of appeals for complaints against member schools or any of their employees.

ACS WASC does not consider allegations concerning the personal lives of individuals connected with its affiliated institutions. It assumes no responsibility for adjudicating isolated individual grievances between students, faculty, or members of the public and individual institutions.  The Commission will not act as a court of appeal in matters of admission, granting or transfer of academic credit, grades, fees, student financial aid, student discipline, collective bargaining, faculty appointments, promotion, tenure, and dismissals or similar matters.

With regard to an affiliated institution operated or governed by a religious organization, the Commission will not respond to any complaint regarding the religious nature or programs of the school (e.g., a complaint about the orthodoxy of a religious service, textbook, or class will not be adjudicated by the Commission).

If any complainant has instituted or has threatened to institute litigation against the institution, no action under this procedure will be taken by the Commission while the matter is under judicial consideration.  (ACS WASC Policy Subsection A15.2)

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What should be considered before filing a complaint?

Most complaints received by ACS WASC involve parental concerns regarding the actions of teachers, grading practices, discipline decisions, or athletic policies. These complaints are under the jurisdiction of the governing body of the school and are not under ACS WASC's jurisdiction. The appropriate manner to address almost all concerns is to follow the line of authority for each local school.

  • For those who have concerns about public schools, including alternative schools, the line of authority to pursue to address issues is as follows:
    1. Specific school person(s) involved in the area of concern
    2. School administration
    3. School's governing body
    4. District Leadership
  • For those who have concerns about a public charter school, the line of authority to pursue to address issues is as follows:
    1. Specific school person(s) involved in the area of concern
    2. School administration
    3. School's governing body
    4. Sponsoring Charter District (or State)
  • For those who have concerns about a private, religious, or independent school, the line of authority to pursue issues is as follows:
    1. Specific school person(s) involved in the area of concern
    2. School administration
    3. School's governing body
    4. Affiliated State or National Organization (if applicable)

A common question is, "What if the line of authority regarding a complaint comes to a dead end; what if the line of authority has been followed to the end and there is no satisfactory resolution?"

The answers to this question are as follows:

  • It should be understood that sometimes there are individual or group concerns that reach no final resolution.
  • If no resolution is found, the only other possible recourse is through the legal system.
  • When a matter involves illegal activities or the safety of students, reports should be made immediately to the local law enforcement agencies, not ACS WASC.

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How does an individual file a complaint against an ACS WASC accredited school?

Complaints are considered only when made in writing and when the complainant is clearly identified. Substantial evidence should be included in support of the allegation that the institution is in significant violation of the rules of good practice as stated in the Commission's criteria, standards, and policies. Such evidence should state relevant and provable facts.

The ACS WASC Commission requires that each affiliated institution have in place student grievance and public complaint policies and procedures that are reasonable, fairly administered, and well publicized. A record of all written complaints received by the institution must be maintained and made available for review by ACS WASC upon request. The complainant should demonstrate that a serious effort has been made to pursue all review procedures provided by the institution.

All complaints must be filed using the correct form that is provided on the Contact Us page on the ACS WASC website. All complaints must be signed; anonymous complaints are discarded. Complaints should be filed in the ACS WASC Southern California Office, 43517 Ridge Park Dr., Suite 100, Temecula, CA 92590.

It is the complainant's responsibility to provide a clear description of evidence that backs up allegations, demonstrate that all remedies with the school's governing board have been exhausted, confirm that the matter is under WASC's jurisdiction, affirm that the matter is not under litigation or threat of litigation, and that the complaint form is signed.

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What procedures does ACS WASC follow when it receives a complaint?

When the Commission receives a complaint about a candidate or accredited institution, it reviews that information to determine if it is relevant to the compliance of that institution with Commission standards. ACS WASC will respond to the complainant within 15 days.

If the complaint is deemed to be under ACS WASC's jurisdiction, ACS WASC executive staff will contact the school in question and allow it to officially respond to the complaint. The Commission at all times reserves the right to request information of an affiliated institution and to visit that institution for purposes of fact finding consistent with Commission policy. Every effort will be made to complete the investigation and reach a conclusion within 90 days.

A pattern of concern which may evidence a significant lack of compliance with standards could cause the Commission to renew its consideration of the matter for whatever action may be appropriate. If information is received raising issues of institutional integrity, the Commission may invoke the sanctions provided for in policy.

Both the institution and the complainant will be notified of the outcome of the review of the complaint. The school and the complainant have the right to respond to ACS WASC's findings within 30 days. Based on all the information received, the decision shared with the school and the complainant by the Executive Director is final. If the complaint was referred to ACS WASC by another agency, that agency will be notified of the findings.

Note: California Education Code Section 94332 requires that complaints filed against WASC affiliated private institutions in California with the Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) be forwarded to ACS WASC for review.

Once a complaint has been received and it is clear that ACS WASC has jurisdiction in the matter, the Executive Director shall draft procedures for implementation of the complaints policy. The procedures shall adhere to the following criteria:

  • Protect the rights of both parties to be heard and to present evidence.
  • Take all reasonable measures to assure prompt resolution of the complaint.
  • Communicate in a timely manner to all parties regarding findings, conclusions, or rulings which are a result of investigation of the complaint.

If the results of the investigation corroborate the complaint, the Executive Director may direct the school to rectify the situation or take such other immediate action as he/she deems appropriate subject to ratification of the action by the Commission at its next meeting.

Examples of such other action might be:

  • An administrative letter of censure.
  • A written order to the school to show cause why accreditation status should not be withheld. The school must be notified of the specific grounds for adverse action, the specific standard(s) for which there has not been compliance, the nature of the action, and the right of the school to appeal.
  • A requirement that the school make official rectification to the complainant.
  • Other actions as deemed appropriate by the Executive Director in consultation with the Commission Chairperson.

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