Accreditation is a voluntary method of quality assurance developed more than 100 years ago by American universities and secondary schools, and designed primarily to distinguish schools adhering to a set of educational standards. The accreditation process is also known in terms of its ability to effectively drive student performance and continuous improvement in education. Accreditation is inextricably linked to institution and system improvement. The accreditation process asks institutions and systems to critically evaluate their vision, strategies, priorities, leadership, programs, student performance, and resources. The process of earning and maintaining accreditation provides institutions and educational systems with clear and compelling direction for implementing changes to move toward excellence.
The process of accreditation yields the greatest continuing return for institutions. The institutions, guided by a set of rigorous research-based quality standards, continuously assesses their status.
While accreditation is officially a "set of rigorous protocols and research-based processes for evaluating an institution's organizational effectiveness," it is far more than that. Today, accreditation examines the whole institution-the programs, student performance, the cultural context, the community of stakeholders-to determine how well the parts work together to meet the needs of students.
Most schools in the U.S. are accredited by regional accrediting agencies. There are six major accreditation agencies for public and private schools as well as a national accrediting body for private and Christian schools--The National Association of Private Schools.
Some states also have their own accreditation standards and may also have bodies that specifically accredit private or independent high schools (e.g. The Texas Alliance of Accredited Private Schools).
Cognia is the parent organization of three of the six major accreditation agencies.