From the NAJIT Board: The Future of the NJITCE

Part I: Big Decisions Ahead

By Melinda Gonzalez-Hibner

As many of you know, NAJIT launched a highly respected judiciary interpreter and translator certification program in 2001. During the years that the certification exam was offered, thirty talented colleagues attained NAJIT certification through testing, and four of its creators were grandfathered in. The last time that NAJIT offered the oral component of the certification exam was in 2012. Since then, we have been debating the pros and cons of continuing to offer this hard-won and highly respected credential. On the one hand, it embodies the maturity of court interpreters in the United States: it is a self-financed, rigorous and comprehensive tool to assess the required skills and competencies of our profession at the highest level. It is a test created by interpreters for interpreters.  On the other hand, it is expensive to administer, hard to pass, and the Consortium for Language Access to the Courts has irrevocably and dramatically altered the credentialing landscape for court interpreters. The cost-benefit ratio, and perhaps even the relevance of the NAJIT certification, is in question.

There are many who feel that the NAJIT certification exam should not be offered ever again. There are many others who feel that it should continue to be offered, given the sizable investment that was made and the value of the credential for the profession at large. What should NAJIT do? One thing is clear: we must decide the fate of the NAJIT certification exam together, as an organization. The Board of Directors cannot make this decision alone. And we must all be as informed as we can before we make any decision.

To that end, Janis Palma and Bethany Korp-Edwards have staked out their positions. Both have great merit. Please read on and decide for yourself!

Part II: Why We Need the NAJIT Certification Exam

By Janis Palma

NAJIT’s credential will give interpreters an additional incentive to expand their knowledge and develop their skills, and ultimately will contribute to the further professionalization and recognition of our field.   – Mirta Vidal-Orrantia

The NAJIT certification exam was created by members of the profession holding the federal certification credential as interpreters, with the technical assessment of a highly experienced research, test development, and test scoring company, Measurement Incorporated (MI)[1], who was awarded a contract after a Request for Proposal (RFP) was sent out to several candidates. The test was developed in strict compliance with the Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs from the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA), now the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE)[2], through its accrediting body, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA)[3].

The entire process followed during the preliminary research, and subsequent development and validation of the NAJIT’s certification exam was carefully monitored by MI to assure compliance with NOCA/NCCA requirements. “To earn or maintain accreditation by NCCA, the certification program must meet all Standards and provide evidence of compliance through submission of required documentation.” One of these requirements was for “Autonomy in the management and administration of certification [which] protects certification programs from undue influence.”[4] The Society for the Study and Translation and Interpretation (SSTI) became NAJIT’s separate “arm” to comply with this requirement.

Furthermore, “To avoid conflicts of interest between certification and education functions, the certification agency must not also be responsible for accreditation of educational or training programs or courses of study leading to the certification.”[5] Therefore NAJIT’s educational programs were no longer handled by SSTI once the test development began, and became the exclusive province of NAJIT’s Education Committee.

Foremost among the standards with which the NAJIT certification exam complied were:

  • Standard 10: The certification program must analyze, define and publish performance domains and tasks related to the purpose of the credential, and the knowledge and/or skill associated with the performance domains and tasks, and use them to develop specifications for the assessment instruments.
  • Standard 11: The certification program must employ assessment instruments that are derived from the job/practice analysis and that are consistent with generally accepted psychometric principles.
  • Standard 12: The certification program must set the cut score consistent with the purpose of the credential and the established standard of competence for the profession, occupation, role, or skill.

After all the appropriate validation measures were taken to ensure the test’s reliability, NAJIT pilot-tested its certification exam in 2001. It was the first time ever we had an instrument to measure the skills and competencies that would become the standard for judiciary interpreters as defined and designed by judiciary interpreters. Furthermore, [t]he NAJIT Exam differs from the Federal and former Consortium examinations in that (1) its written test includes a demanding translation component to qualify successful candidates to translate as well as to interpret, and (2) the oral tests the candidate’s skill in interpreting both from Spanish into English and from English into Spanish.[6]

NAJIT developed the best certification exam in the history of our profession, but it was not a cheap undertaking. Raising the funds to administer the exam was always an uphill battle, and so was raising awareness among judiciary interpreters themselves as to the historical significance of this monumental achievement.

When its greatest champion, Mirta Vidal, fell ill and could no longer spearhead the efforts to maintain and continue to develop NAJIT’s certification program, the momentum was lost, and so was our exam. In 2009 Rosemary Dann as Chair of the NAJIT Board announced a major change: “As we embark on our fourth decade, NAJIT will no doubt undergo changes and face new challenges. One recent development is that Measurement, Inc. will no longer function as the administrator of our certification exam: NAJIT itself has assumed that responsibility. … the board feels that self-management is the best course of action… [and] The newly constituted Certification Commission has taken the helm…”[7]

Sadly, the NAJIT Certification Commission has neither the expertise nor technical resources to maintain our certification exam’s NCCA accreditation, which is the only way our credential can have any validity and credibility. In 2013, eleven states accepted successful completion of the NAJIT exam “as sufficient qualification for state court certification without further testing.”[8] Those states [were] Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, and Wisconsin. Today, 2015, almost no one seems to remember NAJIT ever had such a thing as a certification exam. And while NAJIT’s reputation soared during those years when the certification exam was being administered, its prestige has been dwindling since the certification exam “vanished”.

NAJIT’s professional credential has not only been a “badge of honor” for those who have earned it, but has also been a testament to NAJIT’s commitment to excellence. NAJIT is the only national organization that represents professional judiciary interpreters and translators in the United States. This credentialing process set the organization apart from all the others. It was a clear message to all members: we are a prestigious organization, we have come-of-age, be proud to be a member of NAJIT, be proud to be a Nationally Certified Judiciary Interpreter and Translator (NCJIT). I know I am.

 

Part III: Why We Don’t Need the NJITCE Anymore

By Bethany Korp-Edwards

First of all, I would like to thank Melinda González-Hibner for her excellent introduction and Janis Palma for her clear and well-written summary of the history and pros of the NJITCE, otherwise known as the NAJIT Certification Exam. I would like to start by saying that I have nothing but the greatest respect and admiration for those who developed the exam and certainly for those who have successfully passed it. If it were to be offered again, I would certainly sit for it. That said, my position is that the NJITCE should no longer be administered. There are four main reasons for this: its statistical validity, the cost of administration, the fact that it is no longer necessary, and its difficulty.

Statistically, certification exams have to be very closely guarded to maintain reliability and validity. A certain exam can be given only so many times before it loses statistical validity because of the sheer number of eyes that have seen it and the increasing risk of the disclosure of its contents. The exam currently sits under lock and key at NAJIT headquarters, and the Board has not seen it, but it is our understanding that there are two versions of each section of the exam, which can be mixed and matched. However, this is not enough to maintain statistical validity for an exam first administered in 2001.

Second, the exam must be administered, proctored, and rated in a very controlled manner to be considered valid. As Janis noted, there is also a continuing need to maintain the exam’s NCCA accreditation. The paperwork, practical details of the administration, the hiring and training of proctors and raters, and the tracking of CEUs all cost money (and, more importantly in some ways, time). Although this cost is partially borne by the exam takers, part of the cost falls on our Association, and most of the time investment is made by the Board, our management company, and the Certification Commission. Simply put, with an all-volunteer Board and Certification Commission and two paid staff with many other projects to juggle, this is not the best use of NAJIT’s resources.

Third, the NAJIT exam was conceived to address the very serious concern that many states had no credentialing process in place for court interpreters, by giving those states a ready-made credential that they could simply accept rather than administering their own exam. It was much needed at the time, and some states embraced it. However, since the evolution of the NCSC and the development of LAAC and CLAC, all state courts now accept both the Consortium certification exam and the Federal Court Interpreter Certification Exam (FCICE) as proof of Spanish interpreting ability. NAJIT applauds the efforts of the Consortium and their success, but that success obviates the need for an additional credential by NAJIT. Indeed, every NAJIT-Certified interpreter holds a state or federal certification (or, in most cases, both) in addition to the NJITCE.

Finally, the NJITCE is an excellent, well-designed exam, from everything I know about it. Holding the credential is indeed something to be very proud of, because it is extremely difficult, and many interpreters (including me!) would love to have that feather in our caps. However, in that difficulty lies its downfall. The purpose of a certification exam is to establish that the person taking it holds the minimum skill level to enable him or her to start working in the field as a professional. If an exam can only be passed by people who already have other certifications and decades of experience—by the very crème de la crème of our field—is it really serving its purpose of establishing a minimum standard of competence necessary to work in the courtroom? Or is it merely the cherry on top of a long, distinguished résumé of the best of the best? I submit it is the latter. And I repeat: I have nothing but respect and admiration for those that hold it. But those that hold it also hold state and federal certifications; they have years of experience in state and federal courts; they have served on the Board of NAJIT and taught highly-praised training sessions and classes. Those of us who, like me, have all those credentials but lack the NJITCE, will just have to get along without it.

Someone said to me recently that passing the NJITCE exam is a “goal” for many interpreters, and that is the problem: our goal as professionals should never be the passing of an exam! Our goal as professionals should be to work in court, to do our best every day, to support the Constitutional guarantee of due process, to continually improve our skills, to pass on our knowledge to others. A certification exam is a means to that end, not an end in itself. After becoming Consortium-approved and several years of working full-time in a demanding state court, I was able to pass the FCCI, enabling me to spend the last several years working full-time in an even more demanding federal court, and I know that I am infinitely better as an interpreter than I was when I passed the Consortium exam in 2002. I like to think I could probably pass the NJITCE exam now, if it were given, and if I worked hard at it. But that would be for the prestige, for the honor of having it. It would garner me nothing but membership in an exclusive club, to which I would dearly love to belong, but not at the financial and time expense of making the NJITCE valid again, maintaining its accreditation, and diverting NAJIT’s scarce financial and temporal resources away from more pressing concerns.

 

 


[4] Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs (2002), Structure and Development of the Standards, (p. 2)

[5] Ibid, Standard 2 (p. 5)

[6] Feuerle, Lois. Testing Interpreters: Developing, Administering, and Scoring Court Interpreter Certification Exams. The International Journal for Translation & Interpreting Research, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2013)

[7] Proteus, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Fall 2009.

[8] Feuerle, Op Cit.

12 Comments
  • Helen Eby
    Posted at 14:32h, 27 March Reply

    Could NAJIT develop a T/T certification exam? One of the valuable things of the NAJIT exam was that it certified both interpreting and translation, which are, in reality, skills interpreters use in daily life. Interpreter certifications do not cover the translation skill set at any level. To me, that was the beauty of the NAJIT exam, though I didn’t take it.

    The NAJIT exam was the only interpreter exam that acknowledged that reality openly and clearly. It was a beacon in the darkness, even for the other fields, such as medical.

    To me, this reason is enough to consider maintaining it in some form. Nothing else has truly replaced it, to my knowledge.

    Helen Eby

    • Janis Palma
      Posted at 23:43h, 02 April Reply

      First, thank you all for your input.

      Helen and Leonor: thank you for acknowledging the intrinsic value of NAJIT’s certification: a credential by the profession for the profession.

      Stella: in “the real world” interpreters often translate, that is to say, they have clients who pay them to do this work. The NAJIT exam has a SEPARATE translation component. We are not talking about sight translation, which the NAJIT exam also includes. As to the exam’s difficulty level please refer to Standard 10 described succinctly in my portion of this blog.

      Lola, Athena, and Milena: I can see your points, but if NAJIT decides to keep the exam in the vault I hope it is well preserved because the federal and the Consortium exams respond to the courts’ interests, not the profession’s, and the day may come when they decide “we don’t want / need this any more.”

      Bethany, I checked with Measurement Incorporated and there are 3 versions of the exam. Based on the way it was designed all 3 versions are still valid and viable.

      And finally, Leonor, I must say your suggestion is brilliant! At least all that work would be put to good use instead of being totally wasted.

      • Leonor Figueroa-Feher
        Posted at 11:15h, 24 April Reply

        Dear Janis, Melinda and all,
        Thank you for a positive feedback to my suggestion. We learn to take advantage of every little thing we have when we work in this field, where resources are always limited.

        Count me as the first one to endorse those materials if they are made available.

        All best, Leonor

  • Stella Hall
    Posted at 16:36h, 29 March Reply

    For the most part, national organizations pride themselves in the difficulty of the assessment instruments they create and implement. We know that private clubs are prestigious.
    If we analyze some of the statements made both pro and con this exam, we can see that some issues jump out and hit you in the face. The one that made my hair stand on end mentioned translators. Court interpreters do not ‘translate’; court interpreters ‘sight translate.’ The difference is that one sits in an office with needed materials, equipment, and all amenities desired, while the other one is handed the document(s) and instructed to sight translate quickly while others pace back and forth to speed up the process. How could one test be applicable to both types of translations and settings?
    The push for certifications and continuing education is intensifying. Are the Courts prepared to adequately compensate interpreters for the expense involved, as well as the psychological, physiological, physical and performance duress interpreters experience as they carry out their responsibilities?
    It is my sincere opinion that the exams needed to get certification are not in touch with reality. Why is the passing rate so low? Has anyone compared the material on the exam to its application in a court setting? Perhaps it is time for a reality check outside the ivory tower. With all due respect I vote NO to more useless testing.

  • Lola San Sebastian
    Posted at 10:25h, 30 March Reply

    I am still a member of NAJIT, although I moved to Spain in 2011. Being a member of NAJIT has been my special sunlight during my life as court interpreter.

    Although, the articles by Melinda Gonzalez/Hilbner and Janis Palmer are perfect and their information is complete and logically exposed. I have to go with Part III by Bethany Korp/Edwards, Bethany always astonishes me with her common sense and the charm and dexterity she possesses to explain her case. one cannot help but to agree with her.

    Best wishes Lola

  • Athena Matilsky
    Posted at 14:06h, 01 April Reply

    This is a very well-done debate and I appreciate both Ms. Palma and Ms. Korps-Edwards for their nicely written articles and for their diplomacy. I must say that the fact that we do now have both the consortium exams and the federal test makes a NAJIT credential unnecessary. Of course, that assumes that the point of the test is to prove a certain standard of proficiency in order to be able to interpret in court. If that is the assumption, then the consortium exam and the federal test serve that purpose. If a translation test is what we are looking for, then we have the ATA exam. If it is merely a “feather in the hat,” then I don’t think it is worth it; I agree that NAJIT’s resources are better spent elsewhere. I would, however, respond to the mention in the comments section of “useless testing.” I have not conducted a study, and perhaps one should be done, on the relevance of the tests in a real-life setting. I believe as is the case with all tests that some who have passed would be better off not interpreting and some who have not passed are consummate professionals. However, I have worked with too many interpreters who do not record themselves, do not listen to themselves, do not analyze their product and do not study to believe that these tests are useless or that there is a problem with the low passing rate. Every test is fallible and certainly all can be improved, but I think that they are certainly necessary and that the low passing rate is due for the most part to a lack of respect for what the test (and real life interpreting!) entails.

  • Milena Calderari-Waldron
    Posted at 19:01h, 01 April Reply

    Thank you for asking. With now more than 80% of the states having their own court interpreter certification program in 15 certified languages and about 60 registered languages plus the Federal Court Exam still being offered there is absolutely no need or justification for NAJIT to continue its Spanish court interpreter vendor certification. NAJIT should concentrate its human and financial resources in collaborating with and improving CLAC (Consortium for Language Access in the Courts). I would also like to see NAJIT spearheading the effort of establishing ONE code of ethics to be adopted by ALL state and eventually federal courts. This would be a serious consensus enterprise that will need lobbying in all 50 states.

  • Leonor Figueroa-Feher
    Posted at 14:48h, 02 April Reply

    I join your voices of praise for Melinda Gonzalez-Ibner, Janis Palma and Bethany Korp-Edwards, for their lucid and helpful contribution to this discussion. As Training Manager with Massachusetts’ Office of Court Interpreter Services, I was the one who in 2003 recommended including NAJIT’s exams among the list of oral and written exams we would officially recognize as we drafted our Standards & Procedures. I was aware of the level of expertise that went into creating them, and of the level of expertise required to pass them.

    At this point, and given the aforementioned national state and federal level credentialing available through the NCSC, as well as the concrete financial challenges related to maintaining them, perhaps there is a different option for these testing tools. Would it be possible to create training materials out of the oral and/or written exams? There is a great need for quality training materials, both for interpreter trainers as well as for self-study purposes. Many of us have benefited from ACEBO’s materials, as well as from the few additional options available; we could use more. For certification candidates who are preparing to take the state or federal oral exam, a training/diagnostic tool of this level of difficulty would serve as a higher platform to propel themselves from. For them and/or for practicing interpreters in general it would help them better assess their preparedness to perform as court interpreters and to pass oral exams.

    As to the written exam, dare I suggest it could be helpful as a diagnostic tool to screen/diagnose/credential staff interpreters who are also providing translation services in their courts?

    Would an initial investment in turning these exams into such training/assessing tools be offset by the earnings from selling them to individuals, to interpreter services offices and to interpreter programs?

    Thank you and, as usual, with much appreciation for NAJIT’s work.
    Leonor

  • Vicki Santamaria
    Posted at 14:35h, 03 April Reply

    For me, the issue with the NAJIT Certification Exam has always been the fact that it doesn’t benefit the interpreter who passes it in any practical way. The test taker spends hundreds of dollars to sit for the exam, but whether she passes it or not, nothing changes. New jobs don’t open up to her; her pay level doesn’t increase. Would someone who either hasn’t taken the Consortium exam or hasn’t passed it take the NAJIT exam to qualify to work in the state courts that recognize it? I doubt it very much.

    I partially share the vision of those who created the test in the first place. It would help raise the bar for court interpreters and gain our profession more respect (and maybe higher pay) if all court interpreters and translators were required to pass an exam equivalent to the NAJIT exam. It is definitely more demanding than the Consortium exam and the Federal exam.

    The problem is that the court interpreting profession in the United States is still in its infancy and there simply aren’t enough interpreters who could pass the NAJIT exam and fill the courts’ demand for their services. Not yet anyway.

    When I first started out as a court interpreter in California 29 years ago, there were still interpreters without any kind of certification or preparation working in the courts every day. When I moved to Colorado 14 years later, I worked in a courthouse where a bilingual janitor was called in to interpret when the staff interpreters couldn’t be found.

    Nowadays, both California and Colorado (and probably almost all of the other states) use only certified interpreters, even in civil cases. The profession has come a long way in a short time, at least for Spanish-language interpreters, but there’s still a long way to go. Until the average purchaser of legal interpretation and/or translation services realizes the difference between someone with Consortium-level skills and someone with NAJITCE-level skills, the test is no more than a status symbol.

    • Melinda Gonzalez-Hibner
      Posted at 16:45h, 03 April Reply

      Thank you everyone for your opinions and insight as we decide how to proceed with the NAJIT exam. Excellent comments!

      Regarding the applicability of test content and standards to the daily practice of court interpreting: All court interpreter certification exams (Federal, State and NAJIT) are performance based. That is to say, they are designed to measure the competencies that are necessary for an accurate interpretation in a real courtroom. In my humble opinion, the low pass rates reflect the minimal training/educational prerequisites for undertaking the exams, not faulty design. This of course dovetails with what Athena rightly points out in her post.

      Leonor, we will definitely take your idea into account as we identify possibilities for the NAJIT exam. Thank you for thinking outside the box!

      And Milena, I don’t know if NAJIT is in a position to improve CLAC, as we have no soft or real power over the court systems that make up the National Center for State Courts, the home of CLAC.The courts have many constituencies, and must meet their obligations taking public resources and priorities into account. That is why some states have licensed interpreters who have never been tested, others certify interpreters with a 60% or 65% score, and yet others have cut hourly pay rates for interpreters or discontinued testing altogether. Indeed, it is precisely that lack of control over the courts that hire us and certify us that drove NAJIT to establish its own credential, to set its own bar for professionalism in the courtroom. I do agree that NAJIT should collaborate with CLAC. Point well taken. And a national code of ethics? Probably a very good idea too : )

  • Georganne Weller
    Posted at 18:54h, 05 April Reply

    WOW!
    The Introduction by Melinda is superb, as are the position papers by Janis and Bethany. All are well thought out and well articulated.
    As many of you know and others don’t know, I was involved in this examination almost from the very beginning, in a meeting at N.Y. to examine the content and later on several occasions as a grader. I can attest to the seriousness of the conception, application and scoring of the examination over the years. I was in fine company with the “cream of the crop” from the legal translation and interpretation field in the U.S. and the learning experience for me was marvelous. I can only hope that I was able to contribute to this fine effort positively. As part of the effort, I would rather not comment on whether or not it should continue but do think that this should be put to a vote at the upcoming meeting in May if the by-laws so allow. We have a highly qualified Board but I think this should be a decisión made by a majority vote of the voting members since the issue touches on an issue dear to the hearts of many of us and ignored by many others. Thanks, best wishes, Happy Easter and once again, thanks Melinda, Janis and Bethany for taking the time to provide the information for the membership at large to become aware and to take a position on this very important issue.

  • Virginia Benmaman
    Posted at 16:22h, 13 April Reply

    The NAJIT exam may have served its purpose at one time. However, today, The National Center of State Courts and just about every state has its own testing program and listing of all the individuals and their language specializations. The expenses incurred of taking the exam and correcting it outweigh its current value.

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