Accreditation Unveiled: Where Are We Heading?

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Accreditation of Australian editors and the maintenance of national standards are IPEd's major functions. They are the principal reasons that a national organisation of editors, the Council of Australian Societies of Editors (CASE), was established in 1998. CASE set up the Accreditation Working Group in 2002, following the publication of Australian standards for editing practice in 2001, its first priority. In 2005, CASE was formalised as the Institute of Professional Editors Ltd.

IPEd established the Accreditation Board in 2005 to manage the accreditation process. Four accreditation exams have been held since 2008, largely on a cost-recovery basis; that is, the cost of the exam is covered by the fees charged. A fifth exam is planned for May 2014.

The current Accreditation Board accepts its responsibility to maintain security of the exam delivery and to deliver the exam cost-effectively for IPEd and for exam candidates. This security ensures the integrity of the process and the validity of results. Accreditation is serious business for the profession; there is no point in an accreditation process that is half-hearted or leaky.

Following the fourth exam in October 2012, the board reviewed the process and established a plan to balance its goals and responsibilities with resources, and with requests from societies and members to move towards alternative accreditation models.

Costs and payments

How the $540 member fee was spent in 2012:

Exam development

$111.00

Marking

$156.00

Printing, formatting (exam)

$ 30.00

Appeals and reports

$ 68.50

Postage

$ 10.00

Venue costs

$ 20.00

Exam secretary, coordinator

$ 95.00

Advertising and other admin

$ 15.00

Certificate printing

$   8.50

Contingency

$ 25.00

Total

$539.00

For candidates, the board has always tried to keep the fee as low as possible, simply to cover costs, even if this has meant postponing an exam when the number of candidates has not been high enough. The board has decided to offer exams in non-conference years, which should mean that editors do not have to choose between the two professional development opportunities, and expenses, in any year.

Past exams have relied very heavily on volunteers, and have taken their toll on volunteers' ability to continue. With agreement from IPEd Council, the board Chair, whose role includes overseeing the exam development, delivery and marking, and liaising with the Lead Writer and Assessor, and Exam Secretary, as well as managing the appeals process, will receive an honorarium of $6000 each exam. The board will also manage the development of a database of specialist questions to draw on for future exams, to help defray the cost of those exams. Exam writers and assessors have always received a small payment and this payment will be extended to database question writers.

Delivery

Past exams have been written exams, using hard-copy mark-up, which many editors now use infrequently, if at all. It is argued that a paper-based exam therefore discriminates against editors who aren't familiar with copyediting symbols or the process, though societies offer workshops that tutor participants on these aspects prior to each exam. No doubt, hard-copy mark-up is slower, and messier, than on-screen editing using track changes, though that is taken into account in the timing of the exam and by the assessors. Everyone shares that disadvantage.

Others counter that even those who cut their teeth when hard-copy editing was all that was available can be out of practice, and those who edit only on-screen need to be able to show a mark-up on paper in at least some circumstances. Much proofing work is done on hard-copy typeset pages, though there is a trend towards on-screen proofing using high-level PDFs. Think of a contact meeting with a client where you need to show what you mean about a particular grammatical problem - marking up a change can be an awful lot easier than explaining it.

Further, not all of the exam relies on mark-up symbols. Part 1 contains simple copyediting tasks (correcting errors in single sentences) and multiple-choice questions, worth 20 per cent. Part 2, worth 40 per cent, has the candidates editing a piece of writing and creating a numbered list of author queries - this is where the slow and messy aspect comes in. Part 3, also 40 per cent, is a set of short-answer questions that candidates must answer in longhand - that's something that most of us aren't terribly used to any more!

Nevertheless, the question of 'on-screen' or 'online' delivery to replace or augment the paper-based exam remains high on the board's priorities. The board is taking a cautious but responsible approach: delivery security and integrity cannot be compromised. First, some definitions.

On-screen: An electronic exam paper in Word format that 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: A fully interactive electronic exam developed by specialist IT professionals, with content provided by an IPEd exam development team.

Board delegates have investigated the extra cost of online delivery and consider it not achievable without greatly increased cost to those sitting the exam and limitations on the complexity of the exam questions. The providers who can develop online exams generally do so for large companies and organisations. The accreditation exam candidature is relatively small to be cost-effective. An on-screen exam, which is a more practical option, will still take time and skills to develop, as well as additional cost (around $17,000) for development, computer-equipped venues and IT support.

So, a hard-copy exam will again be offered in 2014. At the same time, the board will continue to work towards the development and delivery in 2016 of a fully invigilated, on-screen exam in central (capital city) locations, with full-time technical support to ensure parity between venues.

The board is very aware that the cost of this option may affect candidates' willingness to pay, and therefore the accessibility of accreditation to all members. Investigation of viable, cost-effective methods will continue, and the board will demonstrate to 2015 conference delegates and to society members in each state and territory how an on-screen exam would work.

Currently, the board's understanding of costs for hard-copy and on-screen options is:

Option

Total estimated cost (approx.)

Charge per candidate (60 candidates)

Charge per candidate (75 candidates)

Exam as is

$32,236 (60) $34,111 (75)

$540 (society member) $690 (non-member)

$540 (society member) $690 (non-member)

Exam as is + database development and payment to AB chair

$45,243 (60) $47,118 (75)

$760 (society member) $910 (non-member)

$630 (society member) $780 (non-member)

Central on-screen exams + above costs

$61,082 (60) $62,957 (75)

$1020 (society member) $1170 (non-member)

$840 (society member $990 (non-member)


Developments in online delivery will still be monitored, and contribution of information and suggestions from members will be more than welcome. The board expects to report its findings and recommendations in two to three years.

The board believes that this considered and structured approach balances its goals and seeks to answer concerns and requests from individuals and societies. Ensuring the integrity of the process and the validity of results must take precedence over rapid changes towards a different delivery method.

For your consideration and feedback

In essence, the path for the coming three to four years is clear. However, input from societies and members is encouraged and may make the board's task somewhat easier. Please respond to this article via your society newsletter or on the IPEd website forum at this address. The paper on options for the accreditation scheme, which was delivered at the 2013 national conference, is also on the IPEd website. The board will shortly circulate an online survey about the specific details of the conference paper.

The following questions underpin the statement on the survey: 'The Accreditation Board welcomes feedback and suggestions about on-screen and online testing of editing skills.' Your responses may very well save the board time and money.

  • Are you aware of or have experience with a provider with whom we could consult about providing a secure on-screen or online delivery?
  • Are you aware of any other provider who may have a different solution?
  • Do you have experience with the delivery of editing exams or assessments by other professional organisations, tertiary institutions and so on that the board can investigate?
  • Do you have any suggestions about ways the board could reduce the cost to candidates, especially when we move to on-screen or online delivery?

You may also want to consider the following questions:

  • Will the exam delivery method affect your decision about seeking accreditation, and how?
  • Would the anticipated higher cost of online delivery change your decision, and how?

Desolie Page AE
Accreditation Board representative (Qld)

Kerry Davies AE
President, Society of Editors (Qld)

First published in Offpress, May 2013, Society of Editors (Qld)