Child Development Associate (CDA) National Credentialing Program - Early Childhood Education - Pedagogy

Early Childhood Education

Child Development Associate (CDA) National Credentialing Program


The Child Development Associate (CDA) National Credentialing Program is a competency-based assessment system that offers early childhood professionals the opportunity to develop and demonstrate competence in their work with children ages 5 and younger. Originally developed in 1975 as a collaborative effort between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Head Start Bureau, and the early childhood field, the CDA program has provided a nationally recognized system that has stimulated early childhood training and education opportunities for teachers of young children in every state in the country and on military bases worldwide. The credential is recognized nationwide in state regulations for licensed centers as a qualification for teachers, directors, and/or family child-care providers. The standards for performance that this program has established are used as a basis for professional development across the field of early childhood education.

The CDA program offers credentials to educators in four types of settings: (1) center-based programs for preschoolers, (2) center-based programs for infants/toddlers, (3) family child-care homes, and (4) home visitor programs. Regardless of setting, all CDAs must demonstrate their ability to provide competent care and early education practice in thirteen skill areas organized into six competency areas, which are outlined in the table below. Evidence of ability is collected from a variety of sources including first-hand observational evidence of the CDA candidate’s performance with children and families, and this evidence is weighed against national standards. The CDA national office sets the standards for competent performance and monitors this assessment process so that it is uniform throughout the country.

By 2004, nearly 200,000 individuals had received the CDA Credential, with the vast majority (over 80%) prepared to work in centers with three- and four-year-old children. Research studies have found that CDAs have a very high rate of retention in the field, move upwards in terms of salaries and positions, and tend to continue their formal education toward college degrees (Day, 2004). Research studies have also shown that the CDA credential has a strong correlation with classroom quality and outcomes for young children (Raikes and Midwest Child Care Research Group, 2003).


The CDA Competency Standards



Competency Goals

Functional Areas

Goal I. To establish and maintain a safe, healthy learning environment.


Goal II. To advance physical and intellectual competence.





Goal III. To support social and emotional development and to provide positive guidance.



Goal IV. To establish positive and productive relationships with families.

Goal V. To ensure a well-run, purposeful program responsive to participants needs.

Goal VI. To maintain a commitment to professionalism.

1. Safe

2. Healthy

3. Learning Environment

4. Physical

5. Cognitive

6. Communication

7. Creative

8. Self

9. Social

10. Guidance

11. Families

12. Program management

13. Professionalism


People who become CDAs are individuals who want careers in early education and who work in any type of early education setting, including public schools, privately funded child-care centers, church-based preschools, Head Start programs, and family child-care homes. Anyone who is eighteen years old and holds a high-school diploma is eligible. However, prior to application for assessment, individuals must acquire the required competencies by participating in some sort of professional preparation. Many two-year colleges, early childhood agencies and organizations, and some employers offer such CDA education and training programs. Scholarships to participate are also offered in many states, and since the CDA preparation often articulates with college-based programs general financial support for higher education is often available to CDA candidates. As it continues to grow in size and scope, the CDA program is playing a major role in enhancing the quality of education for young children.

For more information on the CDA Program, model curriculum materials for the preparation of CDAs, and other resources, visit the Council’s Web site at The Council also published a history of the first ten years of the CDA program entitled The Child Development Associate National Program: The Early Years and Pioneers by Roberta Wong Bouverat and Harlene Lichter Galen, 1994.

Further Readings: Day, Carol Brunson (2004). CDA survey. Washington, DC: Council for Professional Recognition; Raikes, Helen and Midwest Child Care Research Group (2003). Child Care Quality and Workforce Characteristics in Four Midwestern States. Lincoln, Nebraska: The Gallup Organization.

Carol Brunson Day