Decoupling and the Certification Committee

Over the past several years, the Certification Committee has been called on to answer several questions related to opening the certification exam to nonmembers (also known as “decoupling”). Although the Certification Committee manages and administers the Certification Program, it was not directly involved in the decision on whether to eliminate the membership requirement for certification. That decision was made by the Board based on what is known as the Hamm Report1, which the Board commissioned over 20 years ago. Among that report’s specific recommendations was that certification credentials are generally more credible if they are not linked to membership in an organization. Once the Board made the decision to decouple several years ago, the Certification Committee was called on to provide specific information.

One important question was whether the Certification Program would have the staffing to cover any increase in the grading workload if there were a surge in exams after decoupling. The answer was a resounding yes. Every language pair has its own grading team (that is, English>French, for instance, has a separate team from French>English) consisting of at least three graders. Many grader teams handle only a moderate number of exams each year, and some have very low volume. These teams would certainly welcome the opportunity to process more exams. Meanwhile, Spanish>English and English>Spanish, which account for more than half of the exams administered, have larger teams that are well prepared to handle any surge in exams.

Another question was whether graders would have any concerns about grading nonmember exams. The answer here is mostly not. The vast majority of graders feel that grading exams is a service that they are happy to provide, regardless of whether the candidate is a member or not. (Note that while graders are paid to grade exams, they also spend volunteer time on other certification duties such as training and passage selection.) A few graders are opposed to eliminating the membership requirement, while others think of grading as a service to the translation profession as a whole, not just to ATA members. So, the bottom line here is that, if and when decoupling does occur, there will be plenty of willing graders to do the work.

Two and a half years ago, the Certification Committee suggested that it was time to have the Hamm Report revalidated, and earlier this year the Board commissioned a firm with expertise in certification (Knapp & Associates) to produce such a review. Here are some of the key findings:

  • “Most of the Hamm Report recommendations (and rationales for the recommendations) remain pertinent today.”
  • “The Certification Committee has been making great strides in strengthening the Certification Program.”
  • “In our review, we noted a number of additional improvements that could be made in the Certification Program. Some of these would bring the program into compliance with certification industry standards, while others may be beneficial or advisable from an operational or customer satisfaction perspective.”

Regarding decoupling specifically, the Knapp Review indicates that the Hamm Report recommended “removing membership as a criteria” and states: “This is required by standards and advisable for a variety of reasons as outlined in the separate statement provided by Knapp on this topic.” The full text of that separate statement appeared in the July/August edition of The ATA Chronicle.2

The Knapp Review contains 35 recommendations for improving the Certification Program, of which decoupling is only one. The Certification Committee met virtually in July to review these recommendations and classify them into short-, medium-, and long-term priorities. Over the past several weeks, the committee has been working on the short-term priorities, including creating a more definitive statement describing the level of performance targeted by the credential and developing a comprehensive policies and procedure manual for the entire Certification Program. Over the coming weeks and months, the Certification Committee will continue to work on many of the other recommendations, such as a discipline policy, evaluating the pass rate, grader selection policies, training for graders, and improving record-keeping.

Whether or not decoupling is implemented is outside the purview of the Certification Committee, but we’ll continue to maintain and improve the high standards of testing quality that make being “ATA-certified” the respected translation credential it is today.

  1. ATA Accreditation Program Report (Michael Hamm & Associates, 2000),
  2. Knapp, Lorena. “Certification Consultant’s Statement on the Membership Requirement for ATA Certification,” The ATA Chronicle (July/August 2020), 12,

David Stephenson, CT is chair of ATA’s Certification Committee. An ATA-certified German>English, Dutch>English, and Croatian>English translator, he has been an independent translator for over 30 years, specializing in civil litigation and creative nonfiction. Contact:

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