The Rev. Timothy Cargal, Ph.D., serves as Assistant Stated Clerk for Preparation for Ministry in Mid Council Ministries of the Office of the General Assembly.
“... the Land that I Will Show You” is the blog of the Office of Preparation for Ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). This blog is designed to serve as a resource for those discerning and preparing for a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament as ordained teaching elders of the church. It will also provide a place for reflecting on and dialoging about the changing context of pastoral ministry in the early 21st century.
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In my previous post I discussed the action of the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) in response to referrals from the 221st General Assembly (2014) to change the time allotted for the exams in the areas of Church Polity, Theological Competence, and Worship and Sacraments beginning with the July 2015 administration. In this post I will review the PCC’s action in response to the GA’s directive to “integrate oral presentations into the standard examination process.”
The PCC has always permitted presbytery committees or commissions working with inquirers and candidates (CPMs) to approve “special accommodations” in the administration of the standard ordination exams for particular candidates who have written language processing issues such as dyslexia or dysgraphia, individuals whose primary language is not among those in which the exams are offered (English, Korean, or Spanish), etc. These accommodations were limited, however, by the requirement that the finished product must be presented in written format that can be evaluated by readers without the need for further elaboration or comment by the test taker. Thus, the use of any form of “oral examination” was excluded from the standard examinations process and so required approval of “alternative means” for assessment of required competencies approved by a super-majority vote of the presbytery (see G-2.0610).
The special committee created by the 220th General Assembly (2012) that reviewed the overall preparation for ministry process considered this requirement. They concluded that while it was impractical to include oral components into the standard examination of all candidates, there was need for this form of assessment among sufficient numbers of candidates to warrant a way to “integrate oral presentations into the standard examination process” so that their inclusion would not require use of the “alternative means” provisions in the constitution. In acting upon the special committee’s report, the 2014 GA concurred and referred the matter to the PCC for implementation.
The inclusion of “oral presentations” in standard exam procedures is designed for cases where there are circumstances known in advance that make it clear that the test taker may need to comment or elaborate upon written responses. The “oral presentations” do not replace written responses to the standard exam questions, which must still be completed and evaluated following the usual process for the standard exams. Rather, the oral presentation provides an opportunity for the candidate to clarify and expand upon answers provided in the written exams. Likewise, the “oral presentations” are not designed to be after-the-fact responses to “Unsatisfactory” evaluations. They are “special accommodations” granted in advance of the exam to persons for whom the overall experience in the preparation process leads the CPM to conclude that the particular candidate will need an opportunity to clarify and elaborate on written submissions.
In designing this “oral presentation” component the PCC was particularly concerned to protect the integrity of the assessment process. It has created specific administration processes to assure that any oral examination phase does not permit the candidate to correct outright errors in initial responses by redirecting them in fundamentally different ways based on comments from either the readers who evaluate the online submission or the oral component examiners. The procedures are further intended to safeguard against situations where a test taker could be coached to a stronger answer through leading questions from the examiners. By authorizing this special accommodation, both the candidate and the CPM would be committing to the following (cited here from the exams handbook to be released on May 1, 2015):
This provision for a “special accommodation” to include “oral presentations” will be available only for the standard examinations in the areas of Bible Exegesis, Church Polity, Theological Competence, and Worship and Sacraments. Because of the types of questions used on the Bible Content Examination, it is not available to inquirers or candidates taking that test.