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The Role of Assessment in Counselor Certification. ERIC Digest.
Certification of professional counselors is presently viewed in two realms, that of state regulation and of national voluntary credentialing. Many states use the term certification in two contexts, school counselor certification and certification to practice counseling privately for a fee. In this digest, we will consider national voluntary certification only.
The first national certification began in 1972 with the incorporation of the Commission for Certification of Rehabilitation Counselors. In 1979, the National Academy for Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors began certifying counselors trained in the specialty of clinical mental health counseling. Soon after, in 1984, the National Vocational Guidance Association (now the National Career Development Association) began certifying career counselors. In 1983, the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) began certification for general practice counselors. And, as this digest is being written, the International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors is beginning a certification process. Clinical mental health counselors and career counselors have merged with the National Board for Certified Counselors to become a specialty certification of the general practice of counseling.
Across the realm of certifications in the counseling profession is the common thread of assessing individual counselors, training, supervision, experience, and knowledge; the similarities across the processes are remarkable.
METHODS OF ASSESSMENT
A further complication in determining appropriate training appears when certifying boards accept nontraditional education. Processes must be developed that compare home study and other methods of delivery with traditional campus experiences. This may be done by designating which areas of study must be delivered by traditional professor/student/classroom methods and which courses may safely use nontraditional techniques such as distance learning. In counseling, the most important training dynamic is the demonstration of theory-to-practice transference. Topics requiring application of skills to counselees, such as group, individual, or family counseling and assessment of individuals or groups indicate the need for close supervision by a professor.
Because the practice of counseling involves application of information to action, examination constructors face the task of applying knowledge data to cases or situations. The standard beginning point for this application is the job analysis or study of behaviors used in a profession. Most counselor certification exams are based upon comprehensive job analyses of practicing counselors. The National Organization for Competency Assurance requires state-of-the-art job analyses as a prerequisite for accreditation of certification programs (National Organization for Competency Assurance, 1993). Professional examinations which are not based upon comprehensive study of the necessary behaviors needed for professional practice are suspect even before reliability and validity statistics are gathered.
Fine (1986) continues that job analyses can also provide definition of the behaviors needed to practice, knowledge and abilities needed in training curricula, and relevant assessments of performance (p.55).
Loesch and Vacc (1993) describe job analyses as having multiple facets to obtain a picture of a profession. Three major categories of decisions must be considered in conducting a job analysis: a) conceptual; b) procedural; and c) analytical. Conceptual decisions as a basis for a credentialing examination is intended to allow for development of a "test blueprint." Procedural decisions include research methodology, type of examination format, and item generation technique. Analytical decisions involve the statistical and methodological treatment of the list of professional behaviors generated (pp.5-6).
So, job analysis is not directly applied to the individual applicant for certification, but to a large group of practicing professionals. It is the precursor to assessment of certificants and, indeed, essential for logical application of certification criteria.
In an emerging profession such as counseling, an examination which is not undergoing change will soon be obsolete. Monitoring professional practice, research, and literature, as well as advances in examination development and theory are essential to a good assessment program.
The Clinical Mental Health Counselor Academy of the NBCC has always required a tape sample of counseling with a current counselee. This method requires extraordinary time expenditure by applicants for certification as well as tape reviewers. Each tape is reviewed by clinical counselors to assure clinical counseling skills. Clearly this process demands the most scrutiny of reliability (interrater in this case) of all NBCC processes. Ongoing reliability checks of tape review processes are a must. More research will no doubt help delineate better methods of judging tape samples.
Since NBCC has been gathering data on counselor behavior and examination statistics for over twelve years, the time has come to begin releasing these assessment data for use by those with interest in the profession. Such a process is now occurring beginning with the release of all data regarding the most recent and comprehensive job analysis performed within the counseling profession.
Requiring supervision for certification continues to generate a need for better definitions of supervision and qualification of supervisors. In a profession depending upon performance, supervision of pre-service and in- service counseling is essential. Not only will standards need to be developed further but some more quantifiable measures of supervision must emerge.
Fine, S.A. (1986). Job analysis In R.A. Berk (Ed.), Performance assessment: Methods & Applications (pp. 53-81). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Loesch, L.C. & Vacc, N.A. (1991). National counselor examination technical manual (1991 rev.). Greensboro, NC: National Board for Certified Counselors.
Shimberg, B. & Rosenfeld, M. (1990, Winter). Psychometric issues job analysis: Key to content valid tests. CLEAR Exam Review, pp. 14-15.
Thomas Clawson, Ed.D, NCC, is the Executive Director of the National Board for Certified Counselors in Greensboro, North Carolina.
ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated. This publication was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Contract No. RR93002004. Opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions of the U.S. Department of Education, OERI, or ERIC/CASS
Title: The Role of Assessment in Counselor Certification. ERIC Digest.
Descriptors: Achievement Tests; * Counselor Certification; * Counselor Evaluation; Counselor Training; * Credentials; Evaluation; Evaluation Criteria; Evaluation Methods; Higher Education; Mastery Tests; * Standards; Supervision; Testing
Identifiers: ERIC Digests; National Board for Certified Counselors
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