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National Accreditation Commission

  • 1,300 Programs Participating in Accreditation
  • 35 States, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Overseas

The National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs offers early childhood leaders the opportunity to demonstrate and document quality performance using research-based criteria and evidence-based practices. The National Accreditation Commission provides a comprehensive, ongoing quality improvement system that recognizes the inherent diversity among programs through the self-study and award process. Over 1,300 early learning programs in 35 states, the District of Colombia, and overseas participate, including university and college campus-based programs, private child care, faith-based preschools, Head Start, public PreK, corporate centers, DoD programs, employer-sponsored programs, and Montessori programs.

National Accreditation Commission Key Factors

  • Promotes professionalism and program quality in early care and education programs across the nation.
  • Aligned with state early learning outcomes and quality improvement initiatives.
  • Respects individual program autonomy and philosophy.
  • Included in government-funded quality enhancement initiatives, including the Department of Defense Military and Families Program.

Self Study

During the Self-Study phase, parents, staff, and administrators evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the program based on the study of National Accreditation Commission Standards. The program has a minimum of six months and a maximum of two years to complete the Self-Study process and to request an onsite visit.

Upon enrollment, programs receive the National Accreditation Commission Manual which they will use throughout the Self-Study process and once the accreditation is awarded.

Validation Visit

Programs request a Validation Visit (onsite visit) only when satisfied that improvements have been made and National Accreditation Commission Standards are met. To be considered for a Validation Visit, certain requirements must be verified through the Validation Visit paperwork and all mandatory documents related to the request must be submitted.

Commission Review and Decision

The Administrator’s Report, each Classroom Observation, written validator comments, and recorded director responses from the onsite visit are submitted to the National Accreditation Commission’s office by the validator. Early childhood professionals with extensive expertise and experience in the field of child development, program administration, and early childhood research and practices closely review all documentation. Commission rules are applied to determine the award, deferral, or denial of accreditation. It may take up to four months after the validation visit for the program to receive the accreditation decision.

Maintaining Accreditation Compliance

Adherence to Commission Standards must become a habit. It falls on the shoulders of the onsite director to assure that Commission Standards are consistently maintained after an award of accreditation.

Annual Reports

During the four-year award period, accredited programs are required to submit annual reports. The reports are due on the anniversary date of accreditation. Failure to submit an Annual Report is grounds for withdrawal of accreditation. Incomplete or unacceptable annual reports will result in temporary suspension of accreditation until all required information has been received.

Unannounced Visits

In granting an award of accreditation, the National Accreditation Commission retains the right to evaluate the program at any time. Unannounced visits by Accreditation Commission representatives may be made to accredited centers at any time to determine ongoing compliance with Commission Standards. Unannounced visits may be made randomly or based on evidence of non-compliance, such as written complaints, licensing reports, or annual reports.

Reporting Changes to the National Accreditation Commission

Current contact information is needed by the National Accreditation Commission to provide programs with notices, reminders, changes in Commission policies and procedures, and other essential communication. The program will be held accountable for the content of all communication sent to the contact information on file in the National Accreditation Commission office. The National Accreditation Commission must also be notified immediately of any change in director/administration, ownership, relocation or expansion, significant licensing non-compliance, loss or suspension of license, or criminal conviction of a staff member. To notify the National Accreditation Commission of any changes, submit the Initial Notification Form, found on the Accreditation Forms page, as the first step in the notification process.

Withdrawal of Accreditation

The award of accreditation may be withdrawn if it is determined that the program:

– is no longer in compliance with Commission Standards
– has failed to comply with Commission procedures
– has failed to submit required documentation
– has reported false information

Use of Logos

The Association for Early Learning Leaders logo, the National Accreditation Commission logo, and other indications of accreditation are reserved for limited use by accredited programs only. A program may not use these symbols if it has not yet been accredited, if accreditation has lapsed, or if accreditation has been withdrawn. Never-awarded programs still in the Self-Study process may not use the logos or give any implication of accreditation by the National Accreditation Commission. A penalty and/or legal action may result from unauthorized use of the logos or false claims of holding accreditation.

Commission Standards

The Administrator’s Report and Classroom Observation consist of organized groups of Standards and Indicators. Standards are the criteria used to identify high-quality outcomes for young children. Each Standard is labeled with a letter and a number (A1, F6). Most Standards have Indicators listed below the Standard. Indicators are the specific requirements used to verify compliance with that Standard.

Verification of Commission Standards

Certain validation methods have been identified to confirm compliance with Standards and Indicators. These are [D] Document Review, [O] Observation, [FS] Family Survey, [ES] Employee Survey, and [I] Interview. Validation methods that will be used for a specific Standard are listed following each Indicator or Standard.


A number of forms are provided for gathering, organizing, and reporting required information. The forms are located in relevant places in the National Accreditation Commission Manual, along with corresponding instructions for their completion. Follow the instructions exactly, as no other formats will be acceptable. All paperwork submitted to the Accreditation Office requires a submission form. Since reports can require similar documentation, paperwork that does not include the identifying form can be sent to an incorrect reviewer. This can delay or prevent processing and review.

Additional submission forms are also found on the Accreditation Forms page.

Glossary of Terms

The Glossary of Terms is included to provide clarification of terms used in Commission Standards. Refer to these definitions during the Self-Study in order to better understand the expectations of The National Accreditation Commission. Answers to common questions and details related to compliance for specific Standards can be found in the glossary.


Revision of National Accreditation Commission Standards involved a thorough review of literature and tools, including early care and education rating scales, state quality rating systems and early learning guidelines, and research reports of recognized authorities to ensure that current evidence-based practices were used as identifiers of quality outcomes for young children.

Outside Consultants or Mentors

NOTE: Programs sometimes choose to work with an outside consultant or mentor while participating in the Self-Study process. Directors should be aware that only National Accreditation Commission staff can clarify Standards and Indicators with complete accuracy.

Using a consultant/mentor does not lessen the need for the onsite director to read and understand the Accreditation Manual, as the director is the person held accountable for implementing and maintaining Standards and procedures. Outside consultants/mentors are not allowed in the center at any time during the validation visit.

The Association for Early Learning Leaders is committed to excellence in the field of early childhood care and education by promoting leadership development and enhancing program quality.

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