An Interview by Robert C. Shaw, Jr., PhD
James (Jim) Henderson, PhD, senior vice president, senior psychometrician at Scantron, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement award during the 2019 ICE Exchange. The award recognizes longtime outstanding achievements in the credentialing industry. Jim may be going for an all-out sweep, having also received ICE awards for Leadership in 2001 and Service in 2012. Unknown to the author before taking this assignment was the fact that Jim helped to create the ICE Research & Development Committee and served as its chair for three years.
Jim was interviewed by a member of the ICE Publications and Editorial Committee (PEC), Robert C. Shaw, Jr., PhD, who is the Vice President for Examinations for the National Board for Respiratory Care. This interview profiles Jim’s career in the credentialing industry in a question-and-answer format.
Robert Shaw: I understand you received your PhD degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Had you worked in the credentialing industry before starting this education or did that come later? If someone contemplated following in your footsteps, what educational experiences should he or she seek?
Jim Henderson: Like most, I found a career in credentialing after doing other things. My first job after graduate school was as a professor in upstate New York, and though I loved that work, it was too far from home when my daughters were born. My family and I moved to Raleigh, NC, in 1991, and that’s when I focused my career on certification and licensure testing. UNC is a great school, and my program there was (and still is) excellent. I’m really grateful that my advisor encouraged me to take courses in philosophy and learning theory, even though they were not required for my program. Obviously, I couldn’t do my job if I had not had the required coursework in testing, statistics and research, but those electives in philosophy and learning theory built understandings and perspectives that are every bit as important.
RS: You started at Castle Worldwide in 1991, which is now a part of Scantron. Which organizations took the first chance on you as someone who would help with the psychometrics of their credentialing programs and how did these people influence your early work?
JH: I think I have the best job in America. I get to apply things I learned in school in ways that serve an important public need. While doing this I get to work with the nation’s best experts in different fields, all the while forming close friendships and traveling the country. My first big project was a role delineation study for one of the company’s largest clients, but as that got underway, I took on the psychometric work for the organization that Paul Grace headed up. Paul was a protégé of Dennis Faulk during the time that the National Commission for Health Certifying Agencies took shape. NCHCA had become NCCA by the time I entered credentialing, and Paul was nearing the end of seven years as NCCA Chair. Having him as a client challenged me with a complex examination program that included a multiple-choice test, a simulation test and a performance test, but it also steeped me in the principles underlying NCCA Standards. It was a rare and beneficial opportunity to have such a terrific resource at the outset of my credentialing career.
RS: When did you first volunteer as a contributor to the mission of the ICE? What has inspired you to contribute to ICE working groups over the years?
JH: About a week before the NOCA (ICE’s predecessor) conference in 1991, someone who had planned to make a presentation on performance testing was unable to attend, so I was asked to speak as a substitute. I had never attended a NOCA meeting, and the thought of speaking at my first one terrified me. I was even more terrified after the presentation started when I recognized W. James Popham (whose textbooks I had studied at UNC) in the third row. And he wasn’t at all shy about asking questions! Surviving that trial by fire, I have found it motivating to serve the ICE mission because I have learned from it, and the contacts I have made have helped me serve my clients better. The credentialing community is filled with fantastic people, and it has been my great pleasure to learn alongside them and serve the field together.
RS: I know you served as an NCCA commissioner between 1993 and 1999 while chairing the group for a three-year term. An intense and diverse experience like that must have provided learning opportunities. What are some highlights?
JH: At the time of my appointment to NCCA, it was made up of four Commissioners from credentialing organizations, one public member and one psychometrician. Being the sole Commissioner responsible for such a large part of NCCA’s accreditation decision making was daunting, a job made more challenging because of the variety of organizations and tests, and the many ways groups went about meeting the standards. Near the end of my third year, the Commission appointed me chair. I knew a fair amount about the psychometric aspects of accreditation by that time, but I had to up my game in serious ways on the organizational and policy standards. I also had a lot to learn about what it means to be the public face and voice of the Commission between meetings. I think I learned as much being chair of NCCA as I did in my doctoral program at UNC. Besides all that, though, the friendships I formed with fellow Commissioners are among the most meaningful of my life.
RS: You chaired the steering committee for revisions of NCCA Standards that were released in 2002. I contributed to a group you led that proposed some of the next round of revisions to the Standards that took effect in 2016. While working with clients who applied for accreditation over these periods, have you encountered unexpected scenarios while “eating your own cooking?”
JH: I take comfort in knowing that there have been many cooks in the kitchen! I think it’s fantastic that the Standards have been challenged to address fundamental growth in credentialing, making accreditation more valuable and relevant today than ever. When the original Standards were written in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the implementation of modern test theory was just a dream because robust IRT software simply didn’t exist. Almost all tests were administered with paper test booklets, bubble sheets and No. 2 pencils. In the 1990s, it became more common than ever before for organizations to embrace international certification and to offer more than one credential.
Anyone who compares the original Standards with the ones in place today will see that at least three things stand out: (1) the current Standards have more words, for sure; (2) there is improved clarity; and (3) the new Standards maintain fidelity to the foundational concepts and principles, all in the face of change in the credentialing landscape and related technologies. Revisions to the Standards have enhanced the value of NCCA accreditation for a wider, more diverse set of stakeholders, allowing it to serve increasingly significant regulatory purposes. And yes, I do feel a high level of personal responsibility when clients apply for accreditation because of my part in the revision projects.
RS: You were the editor of the third edition of Certification: The ICE Handbook that was just published at the end of 2019. If someone is new to the industry, what highlights from the book would help them? Conversely, if someone has been in the industry, what highlights from the book would help them?
JH: I believe that newcomers to credentialing and experienced credentialing professionals alike will find the Handbook to be an essential resource. This really is a book by the industry about the industry, and I feel privileged to have worked with and learned from such a talented group of experts who wrote the chapters. The Handbook is practical, but it covers theory and principles in meaningful ways, and it takes a fresh look at every area. Newcomers will benefit from several overview chapters, like the ones introducing readers to the business of certification, certification law, policy and psychometrics. Experienced professionals will find depth in every section, on topics like accommodations, testing and psychometrics, special considerations for small programs and recertification. The last section of the book that addresses technology, innovation and the future will be helpful to everyone. Although I recommend reading the Handbook from cover to cover, it will serve as a great desk reference.
RS: To what do you look forward when you start another year of work in the credentialing industry?
JH: New challenges! I have been involved with some really fun projects with clients over the past couple of years, and lately I have had an opportunity to work with a few of my first clients once again. I hope to make a presentation or two at the ICE Exchange this fall and maybe I’ll get to write something. Credentialing testing is the perfect field for me, and I look forward to helping my clients and the industry grow and innovate in the busy years ahead.