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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.

For quick announcements about changes or developments in the preparation process, dates related to exams or other key events, discussion boards, surveys, etc., you can follow us on Facebook at “Preparing for Presbyterian Ministry.”

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September 29, 2011

Why Ordination Exams? ... Future

Theology exam book laying atop laptop computerThe previous two posts have explored how the ordination exams began from a concern for equitable treatment of those preparing for ministry of Word and Sacrament and the principles formed to achieve this purpose of equitable treatment of candidates across the church. In this final installment in the series, I want to look to the future of the ords in light of changes to the exams process recently announced by the committee of the church responsible for their administration.

The current model for administering the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordination examinations is essentially unchanged since the tests began in the United Presbyterian Church in the United States in February 1967. Giving the same assessments to candidates across the country at that time required a system patterned after an industrial model of production. A series of more than six assembly lines moves exams to candidates, readers, and back to the candidates. It is a labor- and transportation-intensive system with steadily increasing financial costs that are outpacing what can be borne through per capita expenditures and fees collected from candidates.

In 2008, the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) began exploring ways to change the management of the exams from an industrial, paper-based model to a digital one utilizing Internet technologies. The goal at that time was to increase efficiency by eliminating the need to manually sort and ship exams and evaluations so that the time needed to receive results could be reduced from roughly two months to about two weeks. From the very beginning there were members of both the PCC and the reading groups who asked whether an Internet-based testing model might also open the possibility for Internet-based evaluation by readers that could eventually remove the necessity of transporting them across the country as well.

What would a digital as compared to an industrial model of exam evaluation look like? Readers would be trained in the evaluation process and provided with resources related to specific exam scenarios through use of restricted access educational sites. Since readers would not have to be in the same place at the same time to physically handle examination books, it would not be necessary for all exams to be taken and evaluated at precisely the same time either. Whenever exams are completed, they would be immediately assigned to three readers each who would have agreed to submit evaluations within 48 to 72 hours. Allowing an additional 24 hours for PCC review of evaluations, results could still be available to test takers and their presbyteries within four or five days of submission (faster than return of most graduate level course work).

Building on ideas such as these, the PCC has announced a plan to move both exam administration and evaluation fully online over roughly the next three years. Once fully implemented, the plan will realize the following benefits:

The different pieces and the stages for implementing them are presented on a timeline that can be accessed by clicking here. Although many details must be fleshed out, the PCC is committed to working with the stakeholders in the ordination examinations to develop a process that takes full advantage of the opportunities available in our digital age.

Tags: ordination exams, preparation for ministry