To evaluate a certification process, or to compare two processes, you will want to ask questions such as the following:
What credential is available in my working language pair?
In addition to asking what language pairs are being certified right now, make sure to ask in what languages tests are being developed; certification in your working language pair may not be available today, but it may become available soon.
Is the certification process valid and reliable?
Validity is a measure of whether a process really measures what it says it measures and nothing else. Reliability is a measure of how consistently the process measures knowledge and skills, regardless of the rater or the time of testing. To learn more about these concepts and how to apply them to a certification process, see part one of Certification of Health Care Interpreters in the United States A Primer, a Status Report, and Considerations for National Certification.
In order to evaluate a particular certification process’ validity and reliability, ask to see the technical report, which should be publicly available.
Is the certifying body credible?
A credible certifying body will have no conflicts of interest, either as an organization or among the individuals on its governing body. How is the certifying body governed? Who makes the rules? Who benefits financially from the certifying body’s policies and activities? How are candidate fees used?
Has the organization received non-profit status from the IRS?
Non-profit status is awarded by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. There are 26 categories of non-profit organizations, all of which are exempt to some degree from federal taxes. Some are public charities or private foundations as defined under section 501(c)(3) of the federal tax code. These organizations are operated exclusively for “religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, to foster national or international amateur sports competition, to promote the arts, or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.” The NCIHC, for example, is a 501(c)(3), as our mission is principally educational.
Another category covers professional associations (considered by the IRS to be “business leagues”) as defined under section 501(c)(6) of the federal tax code. According to tax code, “no part of a business league’s net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual and it may not be organized for profit to engage in an activity ordinarily carried on for profit (even if the business is operated on a cooperative basis or produces only enough income to be self-sustaining).” That means that individuals certified by a 501(c)(6) can be confident that their test fees are not going to benefit any individual or corporation other than the association itself.
The IRS considers certification to be a function of professional organizations, not of public charities. This is why court interpreters can be certified by the National Association of Judicial Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT) and translators certified by the American Translators Association (ATA), which are both 501(c)(6) organizations, and not by each organization’s 501(c)(3) arm.
Has the certification process been accredited by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE, formerly the National Organization for Competency Assurance, NOCA)? ICE has established a system for assuring that certifying bodies have designed their structure and their testing in a credible manner. ICE accreditation shows that a certifying body’s work meets strict criteria and is credible. A certifying body may apply for ICE accreditation only after it has has been testing for one year or has certified 500 individuals.
Does the process test the skills that I am asked to use in my work? Check the test blueprint to learn what the exam tests for, and how much of the exam is dedicated to each topic or skill.
How much does the entire process cost? Remember to include registration fees. Ask as well about the fees to retake the test if you do not pass the first time, the waiting period between re-testing, and if there are any limitations about how many times you may take the test.
Where and how often is testing offered? How long will it take to complete the process? By knowing where and when the written and the oral tests are offered, you can calculate additional costs related to travel. You will also want to know how long the whole process is likely to take, from beginning to end, including the lapse of time between registration and the tests, and between taking the tests and receiving the results.
What are the pre-requisites for taking the exam? You will want to know if you need to do some preliminary work, such as training or taking a language screening test, before you are eligible to register for a particular test.
What will I need to do to maintain my credential over time? Find out for how long the certification is valid and what you need to do to re-certify when the credential expires. Will you need to take continuing education to keep your certification valid? If so, how much and how often?
Which credential is being accepted by the people or organizations that might hire me? This is, perhaps, the most pertinent of all the questions. Before you choose a certification process, find out which certification the people who hire interpreters will accept or may require.