Making a Certifiable Cake – Part I

Tips for New Certification Organizations:
Making a Certifiable Cake from
Start to Finish – Installment 1 – The Foundation

by Cheryl L. Wild, Ph.D.

When I agreed to write a series of articles for ICE News on tips for new and small certification organizations, I wondered how to organize the series and what to discuss in each installment. Where should the series begin, what should each article discuss and how should it be presented? The answer came to me in an unusual place—the kitchen. I began to think of starting and maintaining a certification program as building a layer cake. The steps in the certification process are analogous to each layer of the cake including planning, test design, score reporting and ongoing management of the program. The icing of the cake holds the layers together, gives it an aesthetic appeal and infuses a different flavor into the whole project. The icing of our “certification cake” keeps the needs of the certificants, their employers and the public in mind during all steps of the certification process. It holds the program together and gives it the “flavor” it needs to remain relevant and important to its certificants and the consumers.

Even the lightest, melt-in-your mouth, delicious layer cake does not suspend itself in mid air. It has to have a base or a foundation that supports it and keeps it steady. In certification, the cake plate corresponds to the understanding of the staff and volunteers who are building the certification program. Installment one of the Tips for New Certification Organizations series discusses and provides information on resources to build the foundation and the basic understanding needed to plan a certification program.

Today’s Tip: Benchmark how other organizations are conducting certification programs and adapt these procedures to your organization.

Evaluation of other, established programs is one of the easiest and most cost efficient ways to begin formulating the plan for your organization’s program. Focusing on groups similar to yours in terms of goals, size, industry and budget will also help your staff and volunteers remain realistic and on task during the planning stages. Fortunately, there are a number of resources provided by trade associations (ICE, for example) that collect information and make it available to industry members. Common tools for benchmarking include published resources, workshops and conferences, discussions with others and expert advice are discussed below.

Published Resources
The professional literature on psychometrics can easily overwhelm anyone seeking a basic understanding of certification. However, as you may have already discovered, ICE has developed publications that are intended for novices in the certification industry. See Publications section of the ICE Web site at for a complete publications list. The Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation (CLEAR) publishes an excellent magazine, the Clear Exam Review, designed for the non-technical reader.

Workshops and Conferences
Published articles are not interactive and rarely provide all the information you need to understand the issues underlying development of a certification program. Participating in workshops and conferences allows you to ask questions, learn new techniques or technology and discuss how other organizations address similar issues. In addition, you may be able to see presentations by different vendors—one way of learning who you might be interested in working with in the future. ICE, for example, offers the annual educational conference, periodic onsite workshops and audio seminars to accommodate professionals with smaller budgets. More information is available in the News and Events section.

Other organizations that hold annual conferences and workshops are the Association of Test Publishers, a non-profit organization representing providers of assessment tools and/or services related to assessment, selection, screening, certification and licensing, and CLEAR, an association of individuals, agencies and organizations which comprise the international community of professional and occupational regulation.

Discussion with Other Certification Professionals
Some things you may want and need to know can not be found in a formal workshop or reference book. What are your procedures for obtaining examinee comment on test questions? How do you maintain updated mailing lists? How much do you charge for certification? These and other questions are necessary, basic information, but are usually not covered in a day-long or hour-long workshop. Networking during conferences is a great way to get these answers, but questions arise year round. You can develop a network of colleagues to call during the year, but when you are new to certification you may not yet have a network. I am continually impressed with the discussions on ICE Network, a listserv that has been created to help ICE members share information with, and direct questions to, other ICE members. The generosity of the ICE members in answering questions is amazing. The value of the network is not only in obtaining a variety of answers to the same question. Often, the greatest value is found in the question that you hadn’t thought to ask.

The Washington Certification Networking Group is another informal way of networking with colleagues with an interest in licensure, certification and accreditation.

Expert Advice
More and more individuals are hiring personal coaches to help maximize their careers. If an organization is in a hurry to build expertise, hiring an expert to coach your staff and volunteers in the areas they need to develop may be an expedient alternative. I would not suggest that this path is a replacement for employee development and growth. It is simply a way to avoid reinventing the wheel and provide the framework of skills your organization needs. The expert can help translate some of the technical language and help prioritize the areas that may be important for your staff.

Benchmarking is beguiling-it is so obvious we often ignore it even though we learn to benchmark with our parents and friends at an early age. As the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know.” The above resources may help you identify what you don’t know and need to learn about certification to develop a successful program.

Reprinted by permission of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence .

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