A good starting point for this discussion is the definition: Certification is defined by the National Organization for Competency Assurance as “the process by which a non-governmental agency or association grants recognition of competence to an individual who has met predetermined qualifications specified by that agency or association.”
There are many accredited certifications and, of course, many more professional certifications that have not achieved accreditation. For the purpose of this article, we will only consider the issues associated with accredited certifications.
Accreditation comes from an evaluation by an impartial third party. In the U.S. there are three such bodies: American National Standards Institute (ANSI), The Council of Scientific and Specialty Boards (CESB), and International Credentialing Excellence (ICE).
To be accredited, the administrative body for the certification must (in part):
Ensure all programs are free of bias
Require periodic recertification
Determine pass/fail cutoff using psychometrically valid criteria
Maintain disciplinary procedures
Assure separation of the education and certification components of a certification
Have a public member on the board
(This requirements listing is not all inclusive)
The organization administering a certification, often called a sponsor, establishes education and experience criteria to qualify for the cert.
The sponsor must have requirements for and demand that all qualified candidates will be accepted.
Accredited certifications require adherence to a prescribed set of professional ethics (Sometimes called Code of Conduct)
This is generally the last step before awarding the certification. The examinations are expensive to develop and maintain.
A body of knowledge must be developed, generally by a panel of subject matter experts.
Then questions must be developed that speak to the established body of knowledge.
This is followed by psychometrically sound standard-setting that will result in the exam pass/fail score
Next, each question in the exam must be monitored to assure that it is accurately measuring a candidate’s knowledge of the subject matter
This mandates that a certificate holder meet certain professional practice and educational requirements during an established time frame to maintain certification. The education piece is often met by accumulation of Continuance of Education (CEU) points (sometimes called Continuance of Certification (COC) points). Some organizations allow recertification by retesting.
This has been a quick and much abbreviated look into an accredited certification. In closing it seems obvious that by having earned an accredited certification a person has increased value to themselves and their employer. They have met exacting criteria to qualify, have passed a subject matter test and are remaining professionally current through practice and ongoing education.