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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Across the church this week those who wrote standard ordination examinations last January have been receiving their examination books and readers’ evaluations back from their proctors. What as been a twice-yearly ritual for more than four decades was being performed for the last time. When the “ords” are next taken in August of this year, they will be a paperless process.
The first steps toward online ordination exams were actually taken back in October 2009. On the first Friday of that month, a “pilot test” of Internet-based administration of the Bible Content Examination (BCE) was conducted. A total of 138 inquirers and candidates took the test in what was also the first time the BCE had been offered more than once in a calendar year. Because of the “multiple-choice question” format of that test, those who took it received their results immediately upon completion. The online BCE has now been offered on six different occasions. And, as the fast food chains might say, 1270 online BCEs have now been served.
During these past few years there have been other milestones along the way. Registration for all examination areas was moved online, adding the convenience expected in this Amazon-age and simplifying the process for obtaining presbytery approval to take the senior ordination examinations. Initial reporting of results was moved from an automated fax system to an email notification system that provided test takers, their presbyteries, and their seminaries with individualized reports of exactly where the candidate stood with regard to the standard ordination examination process.
But the biggest changes are yet to come. The next administration of the senior ords, like the BCE, will be Internet-based. Because they will continue to be “essay” exams, they will use a different testing system and obviously will not be able to provide immediate results. Those taking the tests will have the questions displayed on their computers by accessing a secure website and will use the same site to upload their responses. Likewise, the exam readers will use a secure website to provide their evaluations. Once all exam evaluations are completed, the exam responses, evaluations and results will all be made available simultaneously to candidates, their presbyteries, and their seminaries. About three weeks will be cut from the time between writing exams and having the full results as compared to the paper-based system.
Over the next couple of years there will be additional changes to the ways in which readers are trained and go about their work. We expect in the 2013-2014 exam cycle to be able to reduce the time between testing and results to about two-three weeks (from what has been roughly two months). Further changes being worked on are hoped to be able to bring the period between testing and results to no more than about a week.
The Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC), which develops the examinations and establishes policies and guidelines for the program, is considering a variety of ways that the exams may take full advantage of technological developments. They are looking both at the nature of the examinations themselves and the ways that readers are resourced and supported in the critical aspect of preparing the evaluations of exam responses.
The church is moving fully into the 21st century, and so are the ordination exams.