ERIC Identifier: ED388885
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Clawson, Thomas
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
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
Counselor certification begins with
individuals providing certification boards with a portfolio of data pertaining
to their training, supervision, experience, and knowledge. All are areas of
difficulty in quantifying or qualifying.
Training is perhaps the easiest certification area
to assess but even in evaluation of coursework, a variety of factors are
evident. Most academic training reviews require determination of term (semester,
trimester, quarter) hours awarded for graduate study in regionally accredited
institutions. Course titles of counseling and related disciplines number in the
thousands. Certification boards must categorize courses by reviewing catalogue
course descriptions or syllabi. While quantifying transcript review appears to
be a simple task, it consumes a great proportion of portfolio review time.
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.
Supervision duration is easily assessed if
certification boards can define supervision and supervisors clearly. Then
accurate reporting of supervision by supervisors establishes an hour total to
judge against a standard number of hours. As the concept of certification has
matured the qualification and definition of supervision has advanced. Defining
and assessing supervision, however, is probably the least sophisticated and
standardized certification area assessed at present. Bernard and Goodyear (1992)
point out that as models of supervision grow the research and practice will
bring forth clearer definitions.
Experience is easily quantified for assessment
once standards and permutations are set. For example, certification boards may
set a year or hour experience requirement and also set ways to accumulate hours
of supervised experience at less than full time employment. Again, as
certification evolves the ways of achieving experience have become more strict.
In counseling, this is probably a result of the maturation of the profession.
Knowledge is relatively simple to assess if the
universe of the information to be assessed is small. Counseling information
included in the eight core areas of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling
and Related Educational Programs are as follows: (1) Human growth and
development; (2) Social/cultural and family foundations; (3) The helping
relationship (including counseling theories); (4) Group dynamics, processes, and
counseling; (5) Lifestyle and career development; (6) Appraisal of individuals;
(7) Research and evaluation; and (8) Professional orientation. These core areas
are an example of the discipline producing more and more information as the
research and literature base of counseling grows. Therefore, sampling the
relevant knowledge base becomes an increasingly difficult task. All counselor
certification examinations employ multiple-choice, single-answer formats and
range from 100 to 250 items per form.
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.
Shimberg and Rosenfield (1980) identify the
general purpose of job analyses as: a process that seeks information from a
large number of incumbent practitioners regarding the most important aspects of
the job; and the knowledge and skills needed to perform the job in a safe and
effective manner (p.14).
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.
Continuing training is an ongoing
assessment process that begins, for certification purposes, after credentialing
is achieved. Most certifying boards require continuing education as a part of
recertification. Some require both continuing education and re-examination
periodically. The NBCC requires twenty clock hours of continuing education per
year over each five year certification period. All certificants must attest to
continuing their training and submit to random inspection.
Every national program certifying
counselors uses multiple-choice examinations as part of the application
requirement. While this method can assess information retention readily, it does
not lend itself to measuring counseling skills and application of theory to
skills. Recent revisions of the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and
Certification (NCE) have included more applied items. Future modifications
should include methodologies that assess skills better. Tape simulations,
computer applications, branching answer format, in vivo review, and case
scenario models all may be included in future revision. These modifications, of
course, have expense implications, which has been the major force in retention
of multiple choice formats in counselor certification.
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
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.
While counseling is an emerging profession, the
NBCC has kept pace with national mandates for state-of-the-art assessment
techniques. Present methods are constantly being modified in light of assessment
advancements. Use of presently unreported data my lead to further positive steps
in selecting certificants.
Bernard, J.M. & Goodyear, R.K. (1992).
Fundamentals of Clinical Supervision. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Fine, S.A. (1986). Job analysis In R.A. Berk (Ed.), Performance assessment:
Methods & Applications (pp. 53-81). Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University
Loesch, L.C. & Vacc, N.A. (1991). National counselor examination
technical manual (1991 rev.). Greensboro, NC: National Board for Certified
Shimberg, B. & Rosenfeld, M. (1990, Winter). Psychometric issues job
analysis: Key to content valid tests. CLEAR Exam Review, pp. 14-15.