The Changing Landscape of Accreditation: Guide to Secondary-School Recognition in the United States

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White Paper, May 2020

Accreditation in the United States has been and remains an integral aspect of the education system in the United States. Accreditation functions as the independent quality assurance mechanism to regulate elementary education through higher education institutions. Unlike in most other countries, there are no statutory regulations that require an educational institution to apply for or carry accreditation in the United States. In its infancy, accreditation comprised agreements between schools designed on streamlining the admissions process. At the university level, regional accreditation remains the highest standard of measuring quality of the educational institution. At the Kindergarten through high school level (K-12), regional accreditation is no longer the barometer. Instead, each state has autonomy to set standards for recognition. As a vital step in the credential evaluation process, it is the responsibility of the credential evaluator to determine whether the institution and/or program is appropriately recognized within its own jurisdiction, and, if not, whether it has relevant recognition elsewhere. ECE has traditionally used the foreign equivalent of regional academic accreditation at both the secondary and higher education level as our standard for recognition. In the changing environment of international education, the ECE® staff responsible for evaluation policy decided that we should review our methodology for determining whether a non-U.S. secondary school is “recognized” when it neither awards the national credential nor a recognized international credential. In this study, we analyzed the methods of K-12 accreditation and recognition in all fifty states, and which standards are used to regulate, if such regulation exists, operating schools within a state and within a jurisdiction. Based on the results of our survey, ECE has changed its approach to determining recognition of secondary schools throughout the world. This report presents our findings and recommendations. 

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Margaret Wenger is a Senior Director of Evaluation. She has been with ECE since 1990. She is a member of the Standards Committee of the Association for International Credential Evaluation Professionals (TAICEP) and is the TAICEP representative on the Groningen Declaration Network Task Force on Verification Policies and Best Practices.

William Bellin is a Senior Evaluator who has been with ECE since 2008. William has contributed to several publications including the ECE publication Education in the Commonwealth Caribbean. He is the author of The Islamic Republic of Iran: Its Educational System and Methods of Evaluation

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