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Managing Certification Renewals in COVID-19: Part 1

View part two of our Managing Certification Renewals in COVID-19 Q&A here.

Featuring Steven Garner, PMP, California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association and Mihaiela Gugiu, PhD, National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians

In the wake of COVID-19, many organizations have had to modify their processes for certification renewals. For many, learning how to navigate the renewal process while testing centers were temporarily closed brought on great challenges, but many were also able to find ways to pivot their renewals process.

We spoke with four ICE members on how their organizations are managing certification renewals during COVID-19. In part one of this two-part Q&A, we spoke with Steven Garner, PMP, and Mihaiela Gugiu, PhD.

Garner is a certification manager for the California-Nevada Section of the American Water Works Association (CA-NV AWWA), an organization that provides drinking water professionals with education, events, certifications and advocacy. Gugiu is a senior psychometrician at the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians, which serves as the nation’s emergency medical services (EMS) certification organization.

When COVID-19 impacted the ability for individuals to safely take exams or renew certifications, what steps did your organization take to address this? What partners or stakeholders did collaborate with to make these decisions?

Steven Garner: CA-NV AWWA cancelled exam deliveries (paper, computer, performance) and announced an emergency extension of renewal periods. We collaborated with industry stakeholders to create exam restart procedures and approved a longer term extension plan. An in-person exam pilot was planned for May 16, 2020.

Mihaiela Gugiu: The National Registry certification examination consists of two components: cognitive and psychomotor (performance). The closure of Pearson VUE testing centers and the social distancing restrictions put in place at state levels drastically impacted EMS candidates’ ability to be certified. To address these challenges, the National Registry established a multifaceted approach.

First, we worked closely with Pearson VUE to identify a strategy for reopening testing centers. Second, we sent a letter to the National Governor’s Association asking for Pearson VUE testing centers to be allowed to re-open. As a result of these efforts and that of other organizations, Pearson VUE began opening testing centers on a limited basis to serve essential certifications, such as nursing and EMS providers.

Third, the National Registry developed a remote proctoring option for the cognitive examination, which was officially launched on May 12, 2020. Lastly, we adopted a directive that provides a six-month extension to deadlines for certification examinations related to course eligibility and examination validity.

The psychomotor examinations were initially suspended nationwide because the current design of the examination was incompatible with the public health recommendations. However, at the beginning of April, the National Registry made the decision to reinstate support for the administration of the psychomotor examinations in locations where they could be safely conducted. This decision was accompanied by a new set of guidelines for how examinations could be modified from the standard requirements to ensure compliance with the local and state health guidelines, and to continue to meet the testing standards in the industry.

Additionally, the National Registry instituted a provisional certification for applicants who have successfully completed all eligibility requirements and the cognitive component of the certification examination. These applicants can become provisionally certified and start practicing without having to complete the psychomotor component of the certification examination unless their state dictates otherwise. The provisional certification was instituted as a temporary measure that is set to expire at the end of 2021.

Furthermore, the National Registry extended the recertification deadline from March 31, 2020, to June 30, 2020, and waived limitations on distributive education (DE) for the current recertification cycle. The latter change was adopted to allow all continuing education to be completed outside of classrooms

For organizations allowing renewal extensions, did this also further extend the traditional renewal cycle, or did your organization see this as a one-time renewal occurrence?

SG: CA-NV AWWA will not change the existing two- and three-year renewal cycles.

MG: The National Registry sees this as a one-time occurrence.

Did your organization move to remote proctoring quickly? If so, what was the urgency driving this? What decisions and considerations were made to adapt to that exam format?

SG: CA-NV AWWA uses computer-based testing for five of its seven certification programs. The remaining two programs were to be converted to a computer-based test (CBT) in 2020, as group event deliveries; which may now be using remote proctoring deliveries from the same contracted vendor. A sample exam was created for all interested individuals to take from the corporate website. A remotely proctored exam will be available for key stakeholders to develop confidence in the process (very new to this industry).

MG: The National Registry was in the early stages of exploring remote proctoring as a potential option for administering examinations in areas where testing centers are not easily accessible, such as Alaska. However, the closure of testing centers due to the pandemic and the public demand for essential healthcare providers prompted the decision to adopt remote proctoring as an alternative solution. This option was implemented for two of the four cognitive examinations provided based on the high number of EMS applicants who were ready to take their certification examinations but unable to.

One of the two examinations for which remote proctoring was implemented is usually administered as a linear CBT, whereas the other one is administered as a computer adaptive test (CAT). Since the remote proctor vendor could administer only linear examinations, we also had to develop a linear test that was psychometrically equivalent to the CAT version.

If you did pursue remote proctoring exams, what did that mean for the health of your item banks?

SG: CA-NV AWWA will be assessing security implications throughout the roll-out of exam deliveries, as is done now. The major certification exams are undergoing exam refresh cycles from 2020-2022, so item bank expansion will be part of the processes.

MG: We carefully evaluated the health of all our item banks and conducted analyses to assess the potential impact of the remote proctoring tests on the item banks in case of a security breach that would result in the loss of most, or all, of the items on these tests. The results of those analyses gave us the confidence to pursue remote proctoring. At the same time, we have worked with our remote proctor vendor to take measures that would limit any potential security breach.

What are immediate lessons learned that the community can benefit from hearing?

SG: CA-NV AWWA found collaboration with other industry credential providers reaching new levels through the response to the COVID-19 pandemic impact. Health and safety procedures will be retained at heightened levels going forward. Thankfully, consultants were vetted and hired in 2019, so being prepared helped expedite the response. Operations and capital reserves made the transition to remote working conditions and surviving the budget impact of event disruptions more bearable. Staff and volunteer flexibility and a nimble decision-making/governance team really helped.

MG: The partnership that the National Registry established early on with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) allowed it to be more successful in its attempt to persuade state governors that Pearson VUE testing centers should be open for essential healthcare workers, even if only on a limited basis.

Another lesson is related to the need for a flexible, thoughtful and determined leadership. The National Registry has been fortunate to have both: a leadership team that worked around the clock to identify appropriate responses to the COVID-19 crisis and a board of directors that was dedicated and collaborated closely with the leadership team in making and approving these solutions.

Frequent and open internal and external communication is also key. The National Registry transitioned to a remote work environment in March and that was something new for many employees. Hence, good communication via frequent videoconferences, organization-wide communiques and one-on-one meetings became even more important than before. Additionally, maintaining an open channel of communication with all our stakeholders was a vital factor in allowing the National Registry to incorporate the information and feedback received, and to respond with quick and thoughtful actions.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

SG: CA-NV AWWA’s fundamental attitude of doing (vs. stewing) permitted swift adaptation to new business realities. Working with others like the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), water industry associations and vendors through webinars helped pass useful nuggets along daily.

MG: The implementation of the remote proctoring examinations was a major endeavor that required a significant amount of work and the close collaboration of almost every team in the organization. In addition to developing the test forms and making sure they are psychometrically sound, the IT infrastructure had to be modified to provide candidates with the option of selecting remote proctoring examinations when registering. This, in turn, meant new procedures had to be developed and implemented to ensure the accurate administration of the examinations and the communication of results to the candidates. Finally, the communications team developed a multi-pronged plan for communicating all these changes in a clear, concise and timely fashion. And all of this was done with 90% of the staff working remotely.

View part two of our Managing Certification Renewals in COVID-19 Q&A here.

ICE COVID-19 Resources

ICE has put together a resources page with relevant COVID-19 resources for credentialing organizations. View the COVID-19 Resources for Credentialing Bodies page to learn more.

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