The Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools was formed as a voluntary organization on April 5, 1917 with a membership of 25 secondary schools and eight higher institutions in four Northwestern states. By December 2007, this membership increased to over 1900. Presently, the organization accredits in seven states: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
In December 1974, the title of the organization was changed to: Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges. In December 2001, the association's name was changed to the Northwest Association of Schools and of Colleges and Universities, and on February 1, 2004 the association's name was changed to the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools. In 2010, as a result of a restructuring plan, the name was changed to Northwest Accreditation Commission.
The Northwest Commission's geography has significantly changed over the years. In 1988 the association was strictly bound to the seven state northwest region. The association joined the other five regional accrediting associations in 1991 as volunteer Council of Regional School Accrediting Commissions to expand our borders to include "national schools" outside the United States. The Northwest's national school accreditation effort began in 1992 with Togliatti, Russia. The accreditation of "national schools" is seen as a virtue and need as the United States participates in a global economy and as English becomes even more of an international language. Additionally, the Commission's expertise has been sought for the accreditation of distance education schools throughout the country.
The commission had a long and worthy association with the colleges' commission that dates back to 1917. The two commissions used to meet together for the annual meeting of the association until 1994. As times changed and needs changed so did the organizations. The next evolution in relations between the schools' commissions and those of higher education led to two regions separately incorporating their commissions, retaining only the regional name for identification purposes. In the resolution to the Commission on Schools and from discussions over the preceding ten years, the idea to separate was largely promulgated by the growing fact that there were few issues of mutual interest for the two commissions. It was a national trend.
In 1998 the Northwest Association developed the notion of third-party accreditation. Working with the Strategic Planning Committee, the Northwest association developed the 15 points of quality assurance that third-party agencies must provide evidence that they "equal or exceed" existing commission expectations for accreditation. After meeting with some of the agencies that would be impacted (PNAIS, NLSA, SDA, and others), NWAC devised a practical protocol for implementing the third-party accreditation program. Nine third party agencies are approved: PNAIS, NIPSA, NLSA, SDA, ACSI, CSI, ACTS, WCEA, and NAEYC. Currently, nearly ten percent of NWAC member schools are third-party accredited. The third-party (now titled NW Partners) accreditation concept proved to be a vital, progressive and necessary element of our modern accreditation system that was designed to ensure efficacy while minimizing effort.
The partial success of the School Improvement Plan format brought about the concept of Evidence-Based School Evaluation (EBSE). EBSE was a comprehensive and integrated approach to accreditation. All documents and forms follow a common format and identification system. The Revised Accreditation Standards were piloted by all member schools as a part of the fall 2006 annual reporting process.
In the spring of 2010 the membership of the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools approved a plan offered by the Strategic Planning Committee to restructure the Commission. As a result of the restructuring, the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools became the Northwest Accreditation Commission. Each of the State Accreditation Committees along with the International and Transregional Accreditation Committee had representatives serving the interests of member schools. A new logo was designed with the acronym NWAC.
On December 5, 2011, the NWAC Commission and Board of Trustees voted at the annual meeting to approve new bylaws that officially made NWAC a division of AdvancED. Beginning July 1, 2012 all operations of NWAC are under the governance of AdvancED through its Northwest Regional Office.