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'Examining the options for a sustainable accreditation scheme', a paper by Kath Harper, Sue Thomson and Accreditation Board members, was presented by Robin Bennett at the IPEd national conference in April 2013.

Introduction

Accreditation of editors, through a rigorous nationwide examination process, provides recognition and validation of the skills and expertise acquired through study, networking and years of practical experience. The system of accreditation that IPEd inaugurated with its first exam in 2008 is now established as a highly valued qualification. Dozens of applicants undertake the challenging accreditation process each time it is offered, and increasing numbers of employers are willing to pay for their in-house editors to sit the exam. Around 300 people are now proud to call themselves AEs; the first of these will be applying for reaccreditation at the end of 2013. These are clear signs that accreditation has long-term value.

And the value is not just in passing the exam. Feedback from past candidates shows that they also found the preparation process helpful in pinpointing areas of professional practice that they needed to focus on and sharpen their skills in. Reports to unsuccessful candidates also offer valuable pointers to areas of weakness, so that every applicant should emerge with a stronger sense of what it means to be an accomplished editor. Exam reports have generated targeted training courses to address common errors, thereby creating a wider awareness of essential skills.

The end result can only be a stronger, more skilled profession, with a professional appreciation that standards must be maintained and inferior work should not be tolerated. Only then can we make a clear case for being paid at professional rates that recognise the depth and breadth of our skills.

But the system as it stands is unsustainable. As we heard at the Council presentation this morning, if IPEd is to continue its work of providing an accreditation scheme and promoting editing as a profession, changes will be essential. These issues also affect the work of the Accreditation Board.

The board

The accreditation process is managed for IPEd by the Accreditation Board, which is made up of delegates from all of the state and territory editing societies. Board delegates are either accredited editors (AEs), who have successfully undertaken the exam, or distinguished editors (DEs), who were granted this status in recognition of their longstanding contributions to the editing profession and to development of the accreditation scheme.

The board meets at least every three weeks, via teleconference, to discuss matters relating to accreditation. Typically, meetings last around 1½ hours. Between meetings board members conduct further research, consult their state societies, draft and comment on documents about accreditation and continue email discussion of issues covered in meetings. They oversee the conduct of the accreditation exams, and generally act as invigilators. They develop the guidelines for candidates, assess requests for special consideration and oversee the appeals process following exam marking. And this year they will be creating the framework to ensure that the first applications for reaccreditation are assessed thoroughly, fairly and promptly. As members of their state societies’ management committees, they also attend those meetings and deal with state-based editing matters as well as managing the national accreditation scheme. All this work is unpaid.

The role of the chair of the Accreditation Board is particularly onerous. The chair organises and conducts the meetings, and is responsible for ensuring that the work of the board is carried out efficiently, often to very tight deadlines. The chair liaises with the IPEd Council (more meetings) on issues raised and recommendations made by the board, and in turn reports relevant IPEd discussions to the board. In practice, much of the work of developing position papers and following through on board decisions falls to the chair, who is also responsible for liaising with other team members such as the exam coordinator and the lead assessor. The extent of this contribution to the smooth running of the accreditation scheme limits the chair’s ability to balance the demands of full-time paid work and adequate leisure time.

The exam

The operation of the accreditation scheme is intended to be self-funding. It is also required to be affordable, in order to encourage as many editors as possible to seek accreditation. The result is that it relies almost exclusively on the willingness of volunteers to develop exam questions and to organise and supervise exams. This is a huge undertaking, requiring a high level of skill and expertise, and some volunteers have been involved since well before the first exam was held in 2008. This work is either unpaid or poorly remunerated.

Preparation of each exam begins at least 12 months ahead of the exam date. Teams of exam developers are recruited from available AEs and DEs. Working to very strict timelines and confidentiality requirements, they draft questions and answers for each section of the exam. The draft exam paper and marking guide is developed from these questions by the lead writer and then subjected to several stages of rigorous testing to ensure that it:

  • is a fair and adequate test of the relevant editing skills
  • involves a similar degree of difficulty to previous exams
  • is achievable within the time allowed for completing the exam.

Trialling, redrafting and finalisation of the paper must be completed in time for printing and secure distribution of papers to centres across Australia before the exam takes place.

Payment for this skilled and specialised work is offered at a rate of between $200 and $500 for question developers (depending on the part of the exam they work on), and $3000 for the lead writer.

Need for change

As with IPEd, the assumption has been that the accreditation scheme, including exam development and delivery and the ongoing work of the Accreditation Board, will continue to rely on volunteers. What we are finding is that willingness to keep on contributing to this essential work, and availability of suitably qualified workers, are both diminishing as demands increase. There is a constant turnover of membership of the board, with consequent loss of expertise and knowledge of past deliberations.

Based on the experience of previous exams, changes to both exam development and method of exam delivery must be considered if we are to:

  1. reduce dependence on volunteers
  2. reduce pressure on the members of the exam development team, who receive minimal payment for their work
  3. encourage more Australian editors to seek accreditation.

The board, therefore, is attempting to balance those goals but still find a cost-effective accreditation model that candidates will see as relevant to their professional practice and therefore will be happy to participate in and pay for. As has always been the case, exam delivery must be secure to ensure the integrity of the process and the validity of the results.

Issues considered by the board

Defining the options

Over the past 18 months, the Accreditation Board has been investigating the current viability of the various options listed in the discussion paper prepared in 2011 by Rosemary Luke, Pam Peters and Julie-Anne Justus on behalf of IPEd and the board. The list of options from that paper is included here as Appendix A, for your reference. The full paper is available on the IPEd website.

The exam options fall into three broad categories – paper-based, onscreen and online – with variations in the settings in which these would be delivered. Previous exams have shown that the paper format is workable and able to be delivered securely, but there is a clear demand from members for an electronic format so the board has focused on investigating and assessing the various modes of electronic delivery.

The first task was to clarify what was meant by ‘onscreen’ and ‘online’ exams. The working definitions developed by the board for the purposes of this paper are:

  • Onscreen exam: an electronic exam paper in Word format, which would retain the layout of the paper-based exam but allow candidates to complete answers and input text on screen, and use ‘track changes’ functions to indicate editing changes.
  • Online exam: a fully interactive electronic exam developed by specialist IT professionals with content provided by an IPEd exam development team.

One issue that must be considered carefully before moving to an electronic exam format is the need to maintain existing skills as well as developing new ones. For many editors, hard copy mark-up is still a primary method of proofreading long and complex documents. Unless the exam format is capable of properly assessing these skills, there is a risk that they will be seen as no longer valuable or relevant. Assessment must be able to encompass the wide range of skills, activities and settings that make up the varied roles of today’s editors.

Onscreen exam

The board believes that an onscreen exam is certainly doable but requires further research to ascertain that it would provide the levels of security and reliability required for the accreditation exam. An experienced national provider of electronic exam facilities (or several such providers across Australia) must be contracted to ensure that appropriate technical support is available at all exam venues. A range of quotes from service providers must be obtained to make sure that using this format does not put the cost of accreditation out of reach of early to mid-career editors. There is not enough time to finalise this process for delivery of the 2014 exam, but it may well be possible for the following exam in 2016 (or earlier – timing of the exam is discussed below).

Onscreen delivery as outlined above would mean that the exam development team could prepare the exam using software they are familiar with (i.e. MS Word) and would not need specialist IT experts to develop the exam. The team would then be able to prepare sample questions from each part of the exam, appropriate for use in an onscreen format, which could be demonstrated to 2015 conference delegates, and to society members in each state and territory, to indicate how an onscreen exam would work and to obtain useful feedback on this form of delivery.

For a preliminary budget estimate, a ballpark quote was obtained in late 2012 from Cliftons (provider of computer and other training facilities in all capital cities except Hobart). The amount quoted by Cliftons was $16,994, which would include full technical support, as well as the setting up of the room and computer equipment for the exam. The quote is based on the number of candidates in 2012, so some variation can be expected, depending on future candidate numbers and changes in cost of technology. This estimate may be reduced somewhat following further negotiations, but it will remain considerably higher than venue charges for a pen-and-paper exam.

Online exam

Although the most recent survey of members indicated a clear preference for an online exam – and, in particular, one delivered in each candidate’s home via an internet connection (Option 7 in Appendix A) – the board does not consider that this option will be available in the near future. The major concerns are security, integrity, parity and affordability. (These concerns are also relevant to Option 4, onscreen delivery in the candidate’s home.)

  • Security: The exam must be delivered without complications or technical hitches to all exam candidates, and candidates must be able to complete it without complications. This is the primary requirement. With in-home online delivery, it would not be possible to fully monitor and control use of exam materials or prevent their dissemination to people other than current candidates.
  • Integrity of the process: This is critical for achieving wide industry and client acceptance of the value of an AE. In-home delivery supervised by candidate-nominated invigilators may create perceptions of undue assistance or candidate substitution, however unlikely these are to occur in reality.
  • Parity of provision: Variations in speed and reliability of internet connections, as well as differences in hardware and software, would give some candidates advantages in accessing and completing the exam within the time allowed. If candidates experienced equipment or access problems during the exam, it would not be possible to provide technical assistance to them.
  • Affordability: Developing and delivering an online exam is a highly specialised process and payment of people with the requisite skills would increase the cost per candidate considerably. Although it may be technically possible, this option would only become viable if sufficient potential candidates indicated that they wanted to undertake the exam in this format – and were prepared to pay substantially higher exam fees to do so.

For these reasons the board does not consider that delivery of an online exam is feasible or affordable at this stage. However, it recognises that advances in technology are likely to make it a more attractive and workable solution for the future and will continue to monitor developments in this area.

Reliance on volunteer input

The board has considered various ways of reducing the pressures of both time and money on volunteers who give many hours of their time, and their professional expertise, to ongoing development of the accreditation scheme. It would be wonderful to be able to pay all volunteers – exam developers and markers, invigilators and administrators, and the members of the Accreditation Board – at a level commensurate with their knowledge and input. Sadly, this is not possible, and probably never will be. Any solutions can only be partial.

The IPEd Council has agreed to two proposals put forward by the board to try to ease this pressure on some of the hardest workers:

  1. Limited reimbursement of the Accreditation Board chair for the large amounts of time spent in working on issues related to accreditation. As outlined above, this ongoing time commitment, without which neither the board nor the accreditation scheme would function, reduces the chair’s ability to maintain a full-time editing workload and achieve work–life balance. The sum of $6000 per exam has been approved by IPEd. This works out at $3000 per year if exams are held every two years, or less than $60 per week. This is in no way adequate compensation for this monetary loss, but at least recognises the value of the chair’s contribution.
  2. Allocation of extra funds for development of a comprehensive database of exam questions, which can be drawn on and adapted for future exams, thus easing the constant pressure on exam developers and writers to produce a fair and consistent exam paper within a short timeframe. The intention is that the database will be developed following production of the 2014 exam paper, and that AEs and DEs with expertise in specific areas will be invited to contribute scenarios based on their own editing practice for development into exam questions as required, or draft questions and answers. These questions would be subject to review by the board, as has been the practice in previous years. The sum of $7000 has been approved for initial development of the database, and the cost will be spread over the next three exam periods so that candidate fees will be not be excessively inflated in any one year. The existence of a comprehensive and ongoing database would be likely to lower costs of exam preparation in future years.

Special circumstances

The board recognises that there may be extreme circumstances (such as disability) where candidates are unable to sit an exam in a central venue. Such candidates would need to make their case to the board; the board’s decision would be final. These candidates should be offered the opportunity to sit the exam in an alternative venue that is appropriate to their needs. They would be required to find a suitable invigilator (someone who is not related to the candidate and is not an editor; for example, a Justice of the Peace). The nominated invigilator would need to sign a confidentiality agreement and a statutory declaration, and be approved in advance by the board. Any additional cost for the invigilator or the venue would be charged to the candidate.

Frequency of exams

The board believes that an accreditation exam should be held at least every two years, with the possibility of holding exams more frequently if resources allow and candidate numbers justify a shorter interval. At this point the board feels that annual exams are not viable because of pressure on exam developers and the need to have a guaranteed minimum number of candidates in order to cover the costs of holding the exam. The minimum number of candidates may need to be increased if an onscreen or online exam is to be offered.

One suggestion is that the exam should be held in the alternate year to the IPEd conference, to reduce the cost pressures on editors who wish to attend the conference and apply for accreditation.

The next steps

The Accreditation Board therefore proposes to take the following actions to ensure the ongoing sustainability of the accreditation scheme. We present them for discussion by conference delegates today, and welcome further feedback and suggestions from member societies. These proposals, and their likely cost implications, are summarised at the end of the paper.

Action 1

The May 2014 exam will be offered in hard-copy format.

Action 2

The chair of the Accreditation Board will continue to be paid an honorarium of $6000 per exam, to partially offset the limited capacity to engage full-time in normal editing employment because of the time spent on work for the board. (IPEd Council has approved this payment for the 2014 exam period.)

Action 3

The exam development team will be asked to develop a database of exam questions during 2013, including inviting selected AEs with specialist knowledge to submit a range of questions for inclusion in Section 3, subject to approval by the board. The increased cost of developing this database would be offset by lower costs for exam development in subsequent years. The budget for 2014 exam preparation (including database development, to be spread over three exams) is $14,014.

Action 4

Exams will be offered at least once every two years, and more frequently if resources and candidate numbers permit.

Action 5

Candidates who are able to demonstrate extreme circumstances (e.g. disability) will be offered the opportunity to sit the exam at an alternative venue. All additional expenses and special arrangements will be the responsibility of the candidate.

Action 6

The Accreditation Board will investigate in detail the feasibility of conducting the 2016 exam onscreen, fully invigilated in central (capital city) locations, with a single venue provider (or several venue providers) and full-time technical support to ensure parity between venues.

Action 7

The exam development team will prepare sample questions from each part of the exam, appropriate for use in an onscreen format, and these will be demonstrated to 2015 conference delegates and society members in each state and territory to indicate how an onscreen exam would work.

Action 8

The Accreditation Board will continue to monitor options for delivery of an interactive online exam, and undertake to review exam delivery options within the next two to three years.

Summary

In summary, we will:

  • offer the May 2014 exam in hard-copy format
  • continue to pay the chair of the Accreditation Board an honorarium of $6000 per exam
  • build a database of specialist questions
  • offer the exam at least every two years
  • allow for alternative exam arrangements in special circumstances
  • develop and trial onscreen exam options (during 2014–15) in preparation for offering the exam onscreen in 2016 if shown to be viable
  • prepare sample questions from each part of the exam, appropriate for use in an onscreen format, and demonstrate these at the 2015 conference
  • continue to monitor online options and review within 2–3 years.

Estimated cost of the options

Exam cost per candidate: 60 candidates

 Society members 
($)

 Non-members 
($)

 Exam as is

540

690

 Exam as is plus database development

580

730

 Exam as is plus database development and payment to AB chair

680

830

 Onscreen exam plus database development and payment to AB chair

950

1100

 

Exam cost per candidate: 75 candidates

  Society members 
($)

 Non-members 
($)

 Exam as is

460

610

 Exam as is plus database development

500

650

 Exam as is plus database development and payment to AB chair

580

730

 Onscreen exam plus database development and payment to AB chair

790

940

Appendix 1: Comparison of exam options

 

 

Exam medium

Location

Delivery and return method

Form of exam, tools

Security management

Issues to consider

1

PAPER

In invigilated exam centre

Australia Post.

Complex, secure logistics required

Word doc, hand-edit with pen

Invigilators present

Inflexible timing

Disadvantages non-metropolitan candidates

Hand mark-up not used by all editors

Familiar model

2

PAPER

Posted to candidate’s home or to invigilator

Australia Post

Registered post required

Word doc, hand-edit with pen

Candidate arranges volunteer invigilator; or is monitored by web camera; or self-monitors (= trust)

Invigilation must be arranged by candidate and approved by IPEd; with stat dec. to be signed by candidate or invigilator

Timing could be flexible

3

ELECTRONIC

Onscreen in networked classroom

Memory stick

Word doc,
MS tools

Invigilators present

Computers and networks can fail in networked classroom

Power blackouts, internet outages, etc

Most expensive option

4

ELECTRONIC

Onscreen in candidate’s home

Email attachment

Word doc, 
MS tools

Candidate arranges volunteer invigilator; or is monitored by web camera; or self-monitors (= trust)

As for 2

Email attachment may be too large for candidate’s system

Timing could be flexible

Email security?

5

ELECTRONIC

Online in exam centre using internet

Exam held on secure website

Word doc;
MS tools

Invigilators present

As for 4

Secure website used in trials needs to ensure track changes and other Word tools are available

System to date does not provide for Macs

6

ELECTRONIC

Online in exam centre using internet

Exam held on IPEd website

Exam reengineered in Moodle

Invigilators present

As for 4

Moodle trials have yet to deliver equivalent tools to editing in Word

May allow some automatic marking thereby reducing costs

7

ELECTRONIC

Online in candidate’s home via internet

Exam held on secure website

Word doc;
MS tools

Candidate arranges volunteer invigilator; or is monitored by web camera; or self-monitors (= trust)

As for 2

Secure website used in trials needs to ensure track changes and other Word tools are available.

System to date does not provide for Macs.

Security is good; exam cannot be forwarded by email.

8

ELECTRONIC

Online in candidate’s home via internet

Exams held on IPEd website

Exam reengineered in Moodle

Candidate arranges volunteer invigilator; or is monitored by web camera; or self-monitors (= trust)

As for 2

Moodle trials have yet to deliver equivalent tools to editing in Word

May allow some automatic marking thereby reducing costs

Source: Rosemary Luke, Pam Peters & Julie Anne Justus, IPEd accreditation exam – mode of delivery, discussion paper (2011).

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