The AAMA is a long-time member of the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA), a membership association for professional certification organizations. The CMA (AAMA) certification/recertification program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the credentialing arm of NOCA. This accreditation ensures the highest certification standards are met. The following is excerpted from a NOCA paper, The NOCA Guide for Understanding Credentialing Concepts, written by Cynthia C. Durley, MEd, MBA.

Executive Summary

Nearly every profession uses credentialing to establish criteria for fairness, quality, competence, and/or safety for professional services, products, or educational endeavors. In some cases, professions voluntarily develop quality standards of practice; a profession may also be regulated by the State or Federal government. Despite the widespread use of professional designations, credentialing terms are often misused and general concepts often misunderstood. The National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA), the national membership association for professional certification organizations, developed The NOCA Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts to assist its stakeholders, including legislators, educators, employers, credentialing agencies, professionals and the public, in understanding and correctly using credentialing terms and concepts.


This paper addresses the following:


  • Purposes served by credentialing
  • Definitions and descriptions of credentialing terms
  • Processes used in conducting or choosing a psychometrically sound and legally defensible credentialing examination program

General NOCA Information (

Established in 1977, NOCA serves as a clearinghouse for information on the latest trends and issues of concern to practitioners and organizations focused on certification, licensure, and human resources development. NOCA’s accrediting body, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), is the international leader in setting quality standards for credentialing organizations and grants accreditation to those organizations that meet these Standards. 


NOCA’s mission is to promote excellence in competency assessment for practitioners in all occupations and professions by:


  • Providing expertise and guidance
  • Developing and implementing standards for accreditation of certification programs through NCCA (NOCA’s accrediting body)
  • Providing educational and networking resources
  • Serving as an advocate on certification issues


NOCA’s vision is to:


  • Establish NOCA as the authority in certification and NCCA as the authority in accreditation of certification programs.
  • Educate the general consumer so they understand the value of voluntary certification and recognize the NCCA seal as representative of quality certification programs.
  • Enhance quality member benefits and resources so all certification organizations will join NOCA and aspire to NCCA accreditation of their certification programs.
  • Lead the global transformation to excellence in competency assessment.

What purpose does credentialing serve?

Credentialing programs serve many purposes including, but not limited to:


  • Protecting the public
  • Establishing standards for professional knowledge, skills, and practice
  • Assuring consumers that professionals have met standards of practice
  • Meeting the requirements of governmental regulators
  • Helping members of an association or organization work with governmental agencies to regulate the profession
  • Developing a customized credential to meet unique needs in the marketplace, because: such a credential does not currently exist; a credential exists, but the organization wishes to differentiate itself from its competition; or because new technologies or procedures have developed into a new scope of practice or body of knowledge
  • Meeting the needs of employers, practitioners, and the public to identify individuals with certain knowledge and skills
  • Furthering a company’s overall business goals—that is, to ensure that consumers have access to skilled professionals knowledgeable about the company’s products and services
  • Advancing the profession
  • Reflecting an individual’s attainment of knowledge of a specifically defined course of study or of technical skills recognized by a manufacturer or service provider
  • Providing the individual certificant with a sense of pride and professional accomplishment
  • Demonstrating an individual’s commitment to a profession (and to life-long learning, if the credential is a professional certification, requiring recertification by continuing education, examination, self-assessment, etc.)

Definitions and descriptions of types of credentials

Credit for the sources of these definitions is shared among the resources listed in the bibliography.


Credentialing is the umbrella term that includes the concepts of accreditation, licensure, registration, and professional certification.

Credentialing can establish criteria for fairness, quality, competence, and/or safety for professional services provided by authorized individuals, for products, or for educational endeavors. Credentialing is the process by which an entity, authorized and qualified to do so, grants formal recognition to, or records the recognition status of individuals, organizations, institutions, programs, processes, services or products that meet predetermined and standardized criteria. 


The credentialing process is essentially a method for maintaining quality standards of knowledge and performance, and in some cases, for stimulating continued self-improvement. Credentialing confers occupational identity.


Accreditation is the voluntary process by which a nongovernmental agency grants a time-limited recognition to an institution, organization, business, or other entity after verifying that it has met pre­determined and standardized criteria.


Professional certification is the voluntary process by which a non-governmental entity grants a time-limited recognition and use of a credential to an individual after verifying that he or she has met predetermined and standardized criteria. It is the vehicle that a profession or occupation uses to differentiate among its members, using standards, sometimes developed through a consensus-driven process, based on existing legal and psychometric requirements. The holder of a professional certification is called a certificant.


Licensure is the mandatory process by which a governmental agency grants time-limited permission to an individual to engage in a given occupation after verifying that he/she has met predetermined and standardized criteria, and offers title protection for those who meet the criteria.


Registration has at least three meanings: one is the governmental process by which a governmental agency grants a time-limited status on a registry, determined by specified knowledge-based requirements (e.g., experience, education, examinations), thereby authorizing those individual’s to practice, similar to licensure. Its purpose is to maintain a continuous record of past and current occupational status of that individual, and to provide title protection.


A second meaning of registration is simply a listing of practitioners maintained by a governmental entity, without educational, experiential, or competency-based requirements; for example, maintaining a list of practitioners on a state ‘registry.’


A third use of the term registration is a professional designation defined by a governmental entity in professional regulations or rules. However, the governmental regulatory body does not itself maintain a listing or registry of those who purport to meet registration requirements. Verification and authentication of such individuals are left to the employer of the individual claiming to be registered. 


Therefore, when conducted according to legally defensible and psychometrically sound methods and standards, credentialing, in the form of accreditation, licensure, the first form of registration, or a professional certification, assures that a highly qualified, objective, recognized third party (the cre­dentialing body) has examined this person, program, product or service and found it to meet defined, published, psychometrically sound, and legally defensible standards.

Processes used in conducting or choosing a psychometrically sound, legally defensible credentialing program

While professional regulation may occur on the Federal level, it is most often conducted by State pro­fessional regulatory boards whose mission it is to protect the public by ensuring that professionals meet Federal or State-specific credentialing requirements such as completing specific educational and/or experiential requirements and passing an examination to demonstrate competence to practice the profession. Only those who meet the regulatory requirements and remain in compliance with the State professional practice act may legally practice the profession.


  • Some professional regulatory boards use national examinations prepared specifically for regulatory purposes. Others recognize examinations prepared by voluntary credentialing programs. In this case, the regulatory body must ensure that all required or recognized credentialing programs and their ex­aminations are developed and conducted according to legally defensible and generally accepted psy­chometric principles and standards.

Engaging the services of a psychometrician is necessary to interpret and implement these standards as part of a psychometrically sound and legally defensible credentialing program. 


According to Larry Early in Starting a Certification Program, 2nd Edition, psychometrics is the science and technology of mental measurement, including psychology, behavioral science, education, statis­tics, and information technology.


A professional psychometrician is needed to:


  • Design and analyze results of a job analysis or role delineation to define knowledge and/or skill associated with performance domains and tasks associated with the identified profession.
  • Establish examination specifications based on a job analysis or role delineation.
  • Select appropriate examination item format to meet measurement goals.
  • Facilitate examination development based on examination specifications and item writing prin­ciples.
  • Facilitate passing standard (‘cut score’) studies, such that the cut score is consistent with the purpose of the credential and the established standard of competence for the profession.
  • Advise on examination administration policies and procedures that are appropriate, standardized, and secure.
  • Analyze examination results using appropriate statistical methods.
  • Establish scoring and reporting procedures, and ensure the security and confidentiality of such scores and reports.
  • Ensure that the reported scores are sufficiently reliable for the intended purpose(s) of the examination.
  • Ensure that different forms of an examination assess equivalent content and that candidates are not disadvantaged for taking a form of an examination that varies in difficulty from another form.
  • Conduct ongoing research in the areas of reliability and validity.


Organizations sponsoring professional credentialing programs and State and Federal regulatory bodies share a common mission: Public protection. Optimally, if a professional regulatory body recognizes or requires examinations developed and administered by an independent credentialing organization, the organization’s professional certification programs would be accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), the accrediting body of the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA). All professional certification programs accredited by NCCA have demonstrated that they meet generally accepted psychometric principles and standards, leading to legal defensibility and public protection.

There is a nationwide trend whereby state regulatory agencies are getting out of the testing business, and instead recognizing professional certifications as meeting state regulatory requirements. Public protection is the core business and primary responsibility of both State and Federal regulatory agencies. As such, the examinations required of professionals regulated by these agencies must be legally defensible and meet generally accepted psychometric standards. The reader should note, however, that there are few if any legal restrictions governing certification bodies. Virtually any organization can claim to be one.

Therefore, when choosing or recommending a professional credentialing program, stakeholders should investigate key components, and determine whether or not the credentialing program is accredited, and if so, by which accrediting body. If the credentialing program is accredited by NCCA, this means that the credentialing organization has independently demonstrated that the examinations within its NCCA-accredited certification programs are developed, administered, scored and reported according to generally accepted psychometric standards and its governance and administration also meet NCCA Standards. Insisting on NCCA accreditation of a certification program is a safeguard for regulatory bodies looking to use professional certification programs or examinations when implementing professional regulatory requirements.

For more information about NOCA membership and NCCA accreditation, and the topics discussed in this paper, contact: NOCA; 2025 M Street, N.W., Suite 800; Washington, DC 20036. Phone: 202/367-1165. Fax: 202/367-2165. E-mail: Website:

Copyright 2005. National Organization for Competency Assurance. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission