Process for online ordination exams moves closer to reality
Access to constitutional resources and lower registration fees among the benefits
June 22, 2012
Good news for those who plan to take the standard ordination exams: Beginning this August, those who take the exams as part of the process toward becoming a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will be permitted increased access to important resources during the exams.
The change is one of several made by the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) at its annual meeting in Savannah, Ga., which concluded on June 4. The changes come as the process continues to move the administration and evaluation of the exams online.
For the theological competence exam, candidates will be permitted access to The Book of Confessions. For the worship and sacraments exam, both The Book of Confessions and the 2011-2013 Book of Order will be available. Test-takers will be allowed to use print, computer (PDF files), or both formats of these materials.
The standard ordination exams consist of five separate exams. The section on Bible content (a 100-question multiple-choice test) has been taken using an Internet-based testing system since October 2009. This fall, the essay-formatted exams in theological competence, worship and sacraments, Bible exegesis, and church polity, will also be taken online.
The Rev. Michelle Bartel, pastor of Trinity United Presbyterian Church in New Washington, Ind., and moderator of the PCC for 2011-2012, observed, “As we have gone about implementing these changes, the PCC has sought not to simply recreate the old system in new technology. Instead, we have carefully returned to the principles and purposes of the exams to develop an online process that maintains the integrity of the exams for the church.”
The exams themselves will have the same structure as in recent years, but responses will be stored on computer servers instead of printed onto paper. During the evaluation periods, readers will log into a secure system to read the exams and provide their evaluative comments.
This change in the administration of the exams will allow candidates and their presbyteries to receive complete reports (both results and readers’ comments) as soon as the reading period ends, rather than having to wait three weeks or longer as printed examination books are shipped, processed, and shipped again to candidates and, ultimately, their presbyteries.
For the fall 2012 and spring 2013 exam cycles, about half of the readers selected by presbyteries will gather at their traditional reading sites using the new online system to evaluate exams. The other readers will receive their training and complete their exam evaluations while working remotely from their home cities.
Significant cost savings in the exam program are expected as readers from all presbyteries transition to working remotely in fall 2013. The budget approved by the PCC calls for lowering registration fees at that point to reflect decreased travel expenses.
To accomplish this goal, the PCC has created three sub-groups. One will look at ways to continue to enhance the ability of the exams to serve as assessments of ministry competencies within the new technological structure. A second will develop a variety of easy-to-access online tools to provide training for readers, as well as continue the practice of providing engagement with resource persons on the PCC during exam evaluations. The third group will develop online spiritual resources to provide the faith-community dimension that has been a key component throughout the exams’ history.
“The full development plan announced in the fall of 2011 by the PCC will implement further improvements to the program in coming years,” said the Rev. Tim Cargal, interim associate for preparation for ministry/examinations, who provides staff support for the PCC on behalf of the Office of Vocation. “By the fall of 2014, the plan calls for exams that will be available on a more flexible basis with results reported within one to two weeks, rather than the two months required by the former paper-based system.”