Your Complete Guide to Early Childhood Educator Credentialing Organizations and Certification Options

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The preschool profession is finally getting the recognition and respect it deserves, thanks to a push for higher educational standards for these educators, a movement toward universal pre-k programs as a right, and the availability of national credentials that highlight educator excellence.

Years ago, education for our youngest learners was often undervalued. Since then a rich body of research has yielded dramatic findings about preschool education. It is now known that children who attend high-quality preschool programs become higher achievers at the elementary and secondary school levels and that investing in preschool programs, according to the Pew Center on the States, yields “long-term benefits for children and society.”

Today, we are demanding more of our nation’s preschool teachers, and they are rising to the occasion. A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is no longer an exception, but a norm, with many states now requiring this higher level of education for public school teachers at the pre-k level.

Federal programs like Head Start are also requiring more of their preschool educators. Head Start now requires at least 50 percent of all preschool teachers in their programs to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

But it doesn’t stop there. National credentialing has become a popular pursuit for early childhood educators who want to demonstrate their competency and excellence in preschool education and display their commitment to advancing the profession.

National Board Certification in Early Childhood Generalist

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers voluntary National Board Certification (NBC) as an Early Childhood Generalist (ages 3-8) for early childhood educators who want to hold more advanced credentials beyond state licensure.

The NBPTS national board certification is undoubtedly the premier certification for educators, reserved for the highest achievers in the field of education. National board certification is not for everyone, but for those who pursue this undertaking, it is highly rewarding.

Preschool teachers who can complete the NBPTS’ rigorous certification process can earn national board certification as an Early Childhood Generalist. According to the NBPTS, teachers who have earned national certification strengthen the profession and the quality of teaching and learning.

As a nationally certified preschool teacher, you are demonstrating—to employers, colleagues, and families of preschoolers—your dedication to providing the youngest of learners with a high-quality, developmentally appropriate education that will set the stage for their future successes.

Many states and districts offer support and incentives for educators who achieve board certification. You can search for your state’s offerings here. Also, depending on the state in which you live, national board certification may satisfy your state’s continuing education requirements.

Eligibility Requirements and Components of NBPTS Certification

To be eligible for national board certification, you must:

  • Hold a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited institution
  • Have at least three years of teaching experience at the early childhood level
  • Hold a state teaching license (where required)

Once you meet eligibility requirements and apply for national certification, you will be required to:

  • Pass the computer-based assessment that tests your content knowledge

You will receive an email with instructions for scheduling your appointment. All exams are administered through Pearson VUE, which has testing centers throughout the U.S.

  • Complete 3 portfolios focused on:
    • Portfolio 1: Differentiation in Instruction
    • Portfolio 2: Teaching Practice and Learning Environment
    • Portfolio 3: Effective and Reflective Practitioner

You will submit these entries using the online ePortfolio submission system.

You must attempt each of the four components within the first 3 years of your candidacy. You will have two opportunities to retake each component. The certification process can take anywhere from 1 to 5 years, depending on the rate at which you complete it.

Your portfolio entries are an analysis of your practice as it relates to student learning and to being an effective preschool educator. They are designed to capture what you are able to do through real-life settings. You will be required to describe, analyze, and reflect on your student learning using videos and student work samples. You will also be required to demonstrate your knowledge by responding to open-ended and multiple choice questions via a computer-based examination.

The four components (three portfolios and an assessment) are designed to demonstrate your competency in the following five core propositions:

  • You are committed to your students and their learning.
  • You know the subjects you teach and how to teach these subjects to your students.
  • You are responsible for managing and monitoring your students’ learning.
  • You think systematically about your practice and learn from experience.
  • You are a member of learning communities.

Board certification is valid for a period of 10 years. The renewal process for board certification is not recertification – it’s a process by which you are required to submit a Profile of Professional Growth (PPG) that demonstrates how your practices continue to align with the Five Core Propositions as an Early Childhood Generalist. You can read more about submitting a PPG and meeting the renewal process here.

According to the NBPTS, accomplished preschool teachers

Nurture young children’s curiosity, problem solving, autonomy, caring, risk taking, persistence, and humor.

Accomplished preschool teachers:

  • Demonstrate a deep commitment to the development and learning of young children by easing the transition from home and family to the educational system.
  • Are intrigued by the way young children think and the way they view the world.
  • Respond enthusiastically to the diversity of young children – their abilities, cultures, talents, and interests.
  • Build on what your students understand about themselves and the world around them, while you encourage them to develop skills, inquiry and knowledge.
  • Orchestrate cohesive communities of young learners.
  • Work to create a productive, safe, joyful, and enriching learning environment.
  • Hold high expectations for your students’ learning and development.
  • View teaching as a holistic enterprise: a combination of professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions focused on the development and learning of children.

National Board Certification Specialty Credentials

Though the Early Childhood Generalist certification remains the core national credential for preschool teachers, you may also pursue NBPTS national certification in the following specialty areas, depending on your early childhood education focus:

Like the Early Childhood Generalist credential, all specialty national credentials require the completion of the four components (computer-based assessment and three portfolios) and all require candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, a state license (where required), and to have at least 3 years of teaching experience at the early childhood level.

Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential

Whether you choose to pursue the Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential to satisfy state requirements or employer requirements or for professional development purposes, the CDA is a nationally recognized credential designed to demonstrate your competency in preschool education.

To qualify for the Preschool CDA credential, you must complete at least 120 hours of formal early childhood education training that covers the growth and development of children ages 3 to 5, with no fewer than 10 training hours in each of the following eight CDA subject areas:

  • Advancing children’s physical and intellectual development
  • Building productive relationships with families
  • Maintaining a commitment to professionalism
  • Managing an effective program operation
  • Observing and recording children’s behavior
  • Planning a safe and healthy learning environment
  • Supporting children’s social and emotional development
  • Understanding principles of child development and learning

To earn the Center-Based Preschool CDA credential, you must meet CDA Competency Standards, designed to evaluate your performance with children and families. The CDA Competency Standards are divided into six competency goals:

  • Goal 1: To establish and maintain a safe, healthy learning environment
  • Goal 2: To advanced physical and intellectual competence
  • Goal 3: To support social and emotional development and to provide positive guidance
  • Goal 4: To establish positive and productive relationships with families
  • Goal 5: To ensure a well-run program that is responsive to student needs
  • Goal 6: To maintain a commitment to professionalism

You must first submit an online CDA application. Then:

  • You must take the CDA exam. After applying for the CDA, you will receive a Ready to Schedule notification informing you that you are ready to schedule your CDA Verification Visit and CDA exam. CDA exams are scheduled through Pearson VUE. You can take the CDA exam at Pearson VUE testing centers through the U.S.
  • Find a Professional Development specialist who will perform the verification visit to your preschool.
  • Within 6 months, you must prepare your CDA Professional Portfolio, a compilation of materials related to your work. You must follow the detailed instructions in the Competency Standards book to prepare your CDA Professional Portfolio.
  • Within 3 years of submitting your application, you must complete at least 480 hours of professional work experience in a center-based setting with children ages 3-5 years old.

The CDA is valid for a period of 3 years. You must provide proof of training in the eight subject areas related to your CDA credential for renewal. You can choose one of the following types of training for the preschool setting:

  • 5 continuing education units (CEUs)
  • One 3-hour credit-hour course
  • 45 clock hours of training in early childhood development

Child Care Professional (CCP) Credential

The National Early Childhood Program Accreditation offers the Child Care Professional (CCP) Credential. The CCP credential demonstrates that you have the ability to (called Professional Ability Areas):

  • Establish and maintain a safe and nurturing learning environment
  • Promote your students’ cognitive, social, physical, and emotion development
  • Create a focused learning atmosphere through curriculum and content
  • Create and inclusive and culturally responsive learning environment
  • Effectively manage learning environments
  • Maintain a commitment to leadership and professional development
  • Use assessment planning to plan learning opportunities and document outcomes
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of child development theory research and practice
  • Demonstrate your computer and technology literacy

Although any preschool teacher can benefit from the CCP, it is particularly valuable if you are a preschool teacher without a college degree or if you have a degree in another field. Although the CCP credential is nationally recognized, the following states also recognize the CCP as meeting approved director or teacher credentials:

  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maryland
  • Oklahoma
  • Utah
  • Texas
  • Virginia

To earn the CCP, you must qualify through the Multi-Indicator Evaluation (MIE) process, which includes meeting the following criteria:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • At least 18 years of age
  • 720 hours of childcare experience serving children between birth and 6 years of age within the last 5 years in a licensed, center-based early childhood program
  • 180 hours of education/training in the Professional Ability Areas
  • The National Early Childhood Education specialist credentialing examination
  • A professional development portfolio
  • Performance-based observation assessment
  • Two parent evaluations
  • Two letters of endorsement

The process of earning a CCP credential includes:

  • Choosing a CCP Field Counselor who will provide you with guidance, mentorship, and observational assessment (View CCP field counselor requirements here.)
  • Purchasing and completing the CCP Enrollment Packet
  • Submitting the CCP Observation and Request form a, all CCP enrollment packet materials and the $470 fee
  • Completing the CCP Exam (Your CCP Field Counselor will proctor it.)

Upon passing the examination, you will earn the CCP credential, which is valid for 2 years. To renew the credential, you must complete at least 24 clock hours of continuing education during the two-year renewal period. Your continuing education must relate to the CCP’s Professional Ability Areas.

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