Online certification finally makes sense

By Leo Cyr
September 1, 2007
AUTO : TRAINING

 

Leo Cyrhttp://www.autoglassmagazine.net/htdocs/images/hdshot.leo.jpgThe National Glass Association surprised more than a few people this September when officials announced that auto glass and windshield repair technicians will be able to take their certification exams online as of January 2008.

People have been debating the pros and cons of Internet testing since the mid-90s. On the positive side, the Internet offers unmatched convenience and economy by eliminating the technician downtime, transportation costs and usage fees associated with physical test sites. The major objection has always been security. How can we verify the identity of the certification candidate if there is no face-to-face contact? How can we protect the multiple-choice exam questions if people use their cell-phone cameras to record and pass the questions on to others? These are valid concerns, and the NGA has always been committed to doing whatever is necessary to assure insurance customers and consumers that NGA-certified technicians are who and what they say they are. 

An idea is born
When David Taylor, chief operating officer of Cindy Rowe Auto Glass, asked NGA to reconsider Internet testing 18 months ago, he explained that his wife Cindy Rowe, founder of the Harrisburg, Pa., company, is also a registered nurse. She obtained certification in her RN specialties through Internet testing. Taylor pointed out that nursing involves public safety as much or more than auto glass replacement.

No argument there. However, in Rowe’s case, an infinite number of test variations ensured exam security; NGA, on the other hand, has a limited number of test versions.

Steve Mort, CEO of Don’s Mobile Glass, Modesto, Calif., introduced another approach at the NGA board of directors meeting this spring. A licensed pilot, Mort has passed the rigorous Federal Aviation Administration pilot exam. He explained the only thing the FAA cares about is ensuring pilots understand what they must do to protect themselves and their passengers. As a result, the FAA publishes questions before the exam for candidates to study. The system works because the FAA candidates focus on understanding the questions; if they fail to master the concepts, they still have time to seek advice from their instructors.

This too was an excellent idea, but the security problem still existed for NGA. The FAA has significantly more test questions than NGA does in either its auto glass or windshield repair technician certification databases.

The solution
To find a solution, NGA Vice President of Association Services David Walker and Senior Manager of Customer Service and Certification Tonya Johnson interviewed tons of Internet security experts to get their views. The result is a secure Internet-testing program for NGA Certified Auto Glass Technician, Master Auto Glass Technician and Auto Glass Repair Technician certification.

I will leave it to NGA officials to discuss the specifics. I have seen the new security protocols and am pleased that NGA has done its homework. Its security consultants at Pedagogue Solutions in Princeton, N.J., are top-notch. With the help of Pedagogue and its own staff, NGA was able to quickly resolve the question of candidate identification.

Maintaining the security of exam questions was more challenging. For a brief time, NGA considered making all of the questions in the examination databases available for review, similar to the FAA. After all, NGA’s goal is the same as the FAA’s: We want our graduates to demonstrate they understand how to protect the people and vehicles entrusted to them.

However, we soon discovered that if NGA published the test questions in our certification databases, our certification programs would no longer conform to the Joint Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing of the American Psychological Association. Internet convenience was not an acceptable trade-off for stripping NGA of its historical commitment to meeting the highest standards of certification professionalism. The solution: certification candidates have a certain number of seconds to answer a test question. When time expires, the computer locks them out of the question and goes on to the next. Candidates cannot return to a previous question, and “no answer” is graded as an incorrect answer. There is enough time to read and answer the question but not enough to copy questions or look up an answer in a textbook.

Any system can be beaten, but thanks to the input of countless association members and staff we have the security we need to open the door to Internet testing.

“We fully support and applaud the NGA’s initiative to bring secure, online testing to the technicians serving the auto glass industry,” says Paul McFarland, Lynx Services director of programs administration. “Our ongoing partnership with the NGA to validate technician attributes recorded in the Metryx Industry Services Registry will be further enhanced by the opportunity for technicians to achieve NGA certification through this universally available medium.”

A slam dunk
While NGA was looking into online certification, the National Windshield Repair Committee was making plans to update the NGA’s Auto Glass Repair Technician certification program. In preparation, Delta Kits President Brent Deines and Vice President of Sales and Training Matt Larson studied for, took and passed the exam.

Deines reported they found an apparent “disconnect” between the certification training manual and the examination questions. In other words, the answers to some questions in the exam were not fully addressed in the training materials. An immediate inquiry was launched, and we came to three conclusions.

First, the bank of certification test questions for both auto glass and windshield repair technicians must be bigger. Every new question increases the number of unique tests the computer can generate.

Second, NGA must rewrite all of its certification preparation manuals to ensure students can find the answer to any question that might appear on the NGA certification exam.

Third, the updated training manuals must include sample questions to help students prepare for the exam, but the questions should not be exactly the same as those that have been psychometrically vetted by NGA’s certification committees.

NGA will address all of these issues in its new Internet testing program, making it a slam dunk for the industry.


 

The author is the National Glass Association’s vice president of auto glass and executive director of NGA’s Coalition for Auto Glass Safety & Public Awareness. Write him at lcyr@glass.org.