What Is Accreditation?

It is more than just a stamp of approval. Here is what a school’s accreditation or license really means for your child.


Roots School

Photo: Courtesy of Roots School, Melia Lucida


In 2020, a new state law mandated that all independent, private and parochial schools registered for business in Hawai‘i be licensed or accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the Hawai‘i Council of Private Schools. “Accreditation and licensing of elementary and secondary educational institutions are important because they provide an independent third-party assessment of a school’s learning environment, sustainability and program quality,” says Phil Bossert, executive director of the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools. 


So what’s the difference between licensing and accreditation? To earn a license, a school is toured at least once every seven years by educators from other licensed schools. The process evaluates whether the school has the essential elements in place to provide an educational program, such as a clear statement of purpose or mission, documented curriculum, and qualified faculty and staff. In addition, it assesses whether the school has the proper governance, leadership structure and financial resources to operate in a sustainable way. Finally, the process verifies that the school provides an adequate learning environment in which its students learn. Most colleges and universities will not take transcripts from unlicensed high schools. 


Schools can also choose to be accredited. The largest accreditors are the Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools, or HAIS, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, or WASC, which work together with other organizations, including Hawai‘i Catholic Schools, to accredit private institutions here. Other groups focus specifically on Lutheran, Adventist, Christian, Montessori and Waldorf schools and others.


Accreditation is more than a rubber stamp of approval. The comprehensive process requires a school to review in detail its programs and operations, reflect on them, identify strengths and create a strategic plan for addressing its challenges, Bossert says. The rigorous examination covers facilities, curriculum, health, safety and more. 


That is just the beginning. Next, educators from other accredited schools visit for three to five days to compare the “self-study” with their observations. Both reports are sent to HAIS and WASC for further review. This is no one-time exam. Once completed, accreditation is recommended for a specific number of years. If a school is having trouble, financially or otherwise, HAIS and WASC may place it on probationary status with specific requirements that must be met for the accreditation to continue. The ultimate goal is to improve schools and keep them running.


Licensing and accreditation together help ensure parents and students that their school provides an excellent educational program and will be safe, secure and sustainable.


How do you know if the schools to which you’re applying are accredited or not? See our Listing of Private Schools, including accreditations. Here is a key to help you navigate the abbreviations: 


Primary Accreditations



American Association of Christian Schools. National Christian accreditation body with member schools in all but four states.




Association of Christian Schools International. Recognized by the National Council for Private School Accreditation. Accredits Christian schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.




American Montessori Society.




Association of Waldorf Schools of North America.




Hawai‘i Association of Independent Schools. Local umbrella organization that is part of the National Association of Independent Schools.




North American Division Commission on Accreditation. Seventh-day Adventist accreditation organization.




National Association for the Education of Young Children. National association of early childhood educators. Accredits preschool through third grade programs, including child care and before- and after-school programs.




National Lutheran School Accreditation. Nationwide accrediting body for Lutheran schools.




Western Association of Schools and Colleges. One of six regional accrediting associations for schools and colleges. WASC covers California, Hawai‘i, other Pacific basin areas and East Asia.




Western Catholic Educational Association. Accredits Hawai‘i Catholic schools.