27 Mar 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), 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), through its accrediting body, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).
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.” 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.” 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.
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…”
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.” 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.
 Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs (2002), Structure and Development of the Standards, (p. 2)
 Ibid, Standard 2 (p. 5)
 Feuerle, Lois. Testing Interpreters: Developing, Administering, and Scoring Court Interpreter Certification Exams. The International Journal for Translation & Interpreting Research, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2013)
 Proteus, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Fall 2009.
 Feuerle, Op Cit.