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The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) is a U.S.-based membership organization for private, nonprofit, K-12 schools. Founded in 1963, NAIS represents independent schools and associations in the United States, including day, boarding, and day/boarding schools; elementary and secondary schools; boys', girls', and coeducational schools. NAIS has affiliate members internationally as well.
NAIS's mission is to be the national voice of independent schools and the center for collective action on their behalf.
As of the 2010-11 school year, NAIS represented approximately 1,400 member independent schools and associations in the US, serving more than 562,000 students and 121,000 teachers, administrators, and other staff.
Membership in NAIS is open to independent pre-college schools that are operated by nonprofit organizations. To become a full member of NAIS, a school must have operated for at least five years and must be accredited by an accrediting organization approved by NAIS.
NAIS Commission on Accreditation (2002-2018)
In response to requests from several state, regional, and national accrediting organizations, the NAIS Commission on Accreditation was established by the NAIS Board of Trustees in 2001 and convened for the first time in 2002. The 19 member Commission’s work was intended to assure the quality of independent school accrediting programs.
A primary responsibility of the Commission was to developing a public understanding of, and credibility for, state and regional accrediting programs. In addition, the Commission,
- developed criteria for effective independent school accreditation practices, exemplary standards, and models of successful accreditation policies and procedures.
- engaged in research to inform accreditation practice.
The Commission met on a regular basis and was guided by established operating protocols. It was composed of members from state and regional accrediting associations that were members of NAIS as well as at-large members, and NAIS Board members.
History (2002 through 2018)
The member associations of the Commission were accountable to one another through a process patterned on the independent school accreditation model. Over the course of a 10-year cycle, associations prepared a self-study demonstrating compliance with the Criteria for Effective Independent School Accreditation Practices. The criteria provided common ground for member associations by delineating best practices, policies, and procedures. In addition, associations used Model Core Standards — a set of “ideal” standards — in assessing their own standards. As part of the process of “accrediting the accreditors”, each member association hosted a visit from other Commissioners, received written recommendations from the Commission, and engaged in follow-up activities designed to improve the state or regional accreditation process. As with school accreditation, this served two purposes: institutional improvement and quality assurance. After several years of planning to create a new, international organization, the NAIS Commission on Accreditation disbanded in 2018. The successor organization, the International Council Advancing Independent School Accreditation (ICAISA), began formal operations in 2018 as an independent 501(c)(3) organization.
Criteria for Effective Independent School Accreditation Practices
Each member associations was determined to be in compliance with the following:
- The accrediting association holds schools accountable to a comprehensive set of standards related to the educational program and issues of institutional health.
- The accrediting association, recognizing that accreditation is a peer review process, institutes policies and procedures that ensure fairness and impartiality and that are free of conflicts of interest, both in appearance and in fact.
- The accreditation process consists of a continuing cycle: self-study by the school, visit and report by a team of trained peers, action by the association, and follow-up by the school and the association.
- The accrediting association monitors the school’s compliance with standards and its progress in addressing the recommendations of the self-study and of the visiting team report. The accrediting association also regularly solicits reports from schools on substantive institutional change and reviews the school’s accreditation status in the light of those changes.
- The decision-making and appeal processes regarding accreditation status in the accreditation cycle are clear and understandable. Policies and procedures are available for public review.
- The accrediting association offers formal and comprehensive preparation and training for all participants in the accreditation process, including team chairs and members, heads of school, self-study coordinators, and accrediting association boards and commissions.
- The accrediting association engages in regular evaluation and review of its standards and accreditation process and solicits reports from schools and visiting teams on their experience with the process.
- The accrediting association designates a decision-making body charged with overseeing the evaluation and accreditation process and making final decisions regarding accreditation.
- The accreditation process examines the whole school, including all divisions and those programs that are included in the accreditation.
- The accrediting association has a procedure, available to the public and clearly explained, to handle complaints that accredited schools are not meeting standards.
- The accreditation process rests on comprehensive standards which schools must meet. The standards address all areas of school life, including the following: mission, governance, finance, program, community of the school, administration, development, admissions, personnel, health and safety, facilities, student services, school culture, and residential life (where applicable).
- The standards require schools to conduct a thoughtful assessment of individual student progress consistent with the school’s mission.
- The standards require a school to provide evidence of a thoughtful process, respectful of its mission, for informed decision-making that draws on data (both internal and external) about student learning.
- The standards require a school to demonstrate that its educational programs, instructional practices, and institutional culture are informed by relevant research regarding how students learn and the knowledge and capacities they will need to lead purposeful and constructive lives.
- The self-study process is deliberative, and the self-study report reflects the considered judgment of the school’s professional community.
- A broad cross-section of the community (including all faculty and staff, as well as members of the governing body and others in the community, as appropriate) participate in preparing the self-study.
- The self-study includes reflection and self-analysis as well as description, identifies strengths and weaknesses, and assesses both the school’s compliance with standards and the congruence between its program and mission, and balances documentation of accountability to the accrediting association standards with a focus on school improvement. The school will provide all required documents in a timely fashion.
- The accrediting association appoints a visiting team chair who shall be responsible to follow the accrediting association’s guidelines, to ensure the visiting team’s effectiveness, and to protect the integrity of the process.
- The accrediting association appoints a visiting team to conduct a site visit while school is in session.
- The accrediting association is mindful of the circumstances of the school and the full range of the standards in determining the size and selecting the members of a visiting team.
- The visiting team receives advance materials in a timely fashion and arrives at the school fully prepared.
- The visiting team observes the program and interviews school staff, trustees, students, parents, and others as appropriate. It validates the self-study, evaluates the school’s compliance with standards, and writes a report with commendations and recommendations which is sent to the accrediting association and to the school in a timely fashion. The report is confidential, except as authorized by the school. Any release of parts or all of the report to the public must follow the accrediting association guidelines.
- The length of the visit is sufficient to accomplish the above.
- The members of the visiting team hold confidential the information they receive and their discussions during the accreditation process.
- The accrediting association, or a representative committee, receives and reviews the self-study, and visiting team report, determines the accreditation status of the school, prescribes appropriate actions, and sets up a schedule for future reports and visits. The school is given an opportunity to respond to the report of the visiting committee in advance of the accrediting association taking action on its accreditation.
- The accrediting association notifies the board chair, as well as the head of school, concerning decisions related to a school’s accreditation.
Membership on the NAIS Commission on Accreditation
The following are state, regional, and international accrediting organizations that were members of the NAIS Commission on Accreditation and became founding members of the International Council Advancing Independent School Accreditation (ICAISA):
State Accrediting Associations
- Association of Colorado Independent Schools (ACIS)
- California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS/CA)
- Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS/CT)
- Florida Council of Independent Schools (FCIS)
- Hawaii Association of Independent Schools (HAIS)
- New Jersey Association of Independent Schools (NJAIS)
- New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS)
- Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools (PAIS)
- Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS)
- Association of Independent Maryland and DC Schools
Regional, National and International Accrediting Associations
- Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS/CAN)
- Council of International Schools (CIS)
- Association of Independent Schools in New England (AISNE)
- Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS)
- Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Northwest Association of Independent Schools (NWAIS)
- Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS)
- Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools (SAES)
- Canadian Accredited Independent Schools, formerly Standards in Excellence And Learning (SEAL)
- Education in the United States
- Environment of the United States
- Environmental groups and resources serving K–12 schools
- Membership, NAIS website, accessed October 6, 2010