Tuesday, April 28, 2009

FIRESIDE CHAT: Three Decades of the CEP Credential and Environmental Professional Certification (c)



The problem of validating professionals, not only environmental professionals, resembles the problem of identifying a Philosopher King as guardian of Utopia in Plato’s “Republic.” Plato had strong feelings about the type of person who should serve, something along the lines of being intelligent, philosophical, objective, and benevolent… in short, much like Plato himself. Yet, selecting such an individual (other than oneself) was difficult, as the selection would depend upon the choice of selectors. The problem was recursive: a valid Philosopher King could be chosen only by validated selectors, who would have been chosen by validated selectors of the selectors, with no clear end to the chain. Few utopias, therefore, exist.

Ominously for democracies, Plato’s problem proved intractable. Ominously for many professions, including environmental, multiple certifying organizations have appeared, raising the thorny platonic issue of how each profession might select a valid Philosopher King. Can the environmental professions select a certifying body trustworthy and trusted among consumers of their services? Toward that end, certifying organizations have enhanced the credibility of their professional credentials via accreditation by organizations that serve multiple professions under one umbrella.

In April 2004 ABCEP’s CEP credential received accreditation by the Council of Engineering and Scientific Specialty Boards headquartered in Annapolis, Maryland. ABCEP’s accreditation, reviewed periodically, has been maintained consistently. The Council accredits Certified Industrial Hygienists and other widely-recognized professionals. Its Member Boards include the following not-for-profit certifying organizations (see www.cesb.org):

--AACE International,
--Academy of Board Certified Environmental Professionals,
--American Academy of Environmental Engineers,
--American Board of Health Physics,
--American Board of Industrial Hygiene,
--American Indoor Air Quality Council,
--American Society of Professional Estimators,
--Board of Environmental, Health & Safety Auditor Certifications,
--Building Inspection Engineering Certification Institute,
--Certified Environmental, Safety and Health Trainer Board of Certification,
--Institute of Hazardous Materials Management,
--Institute of Professional Environmental Practice,
--National Academy of Forensic Engineers, and
--Society of Wetlands Scientists Professional Certification Program.

Philosophy of CEP Candidate Evaluation

The philosophy underpinning evaluation of CEP candidates is special. Most fundamentally, evaluation is conducted via peer review, in contrast to other credentials that are awarded based upon results of a short-answer or multiple-choice examination. CEP applicants must show evidence of having earned a college or university degree from an accredited institution, that is, one whose accreditation is recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation, which weeds out ‘diploma mills’. ABCEP assumes that CEP candidates who earned such a degree were tested sufficiently via fact-based short-answer and multiple-choice questioning in their fields of expertise and beyond. Accordingly, CEP candidate examinations are conducted via essay questions completed without supervision and submitted whenever ready.

Peer review serves well in selecting CEPs from among the population of applicants, just as it serves well in selecting candidates for public office in our representative democracy, in which a broad electorate of peers can vote. Peer review also underpins the American justice system, in which defendants are judged by a jury of their peers. It underpins our system of evaluating professional manuscripts submitted for publication in academic and technical journals. In short, peer review, which is the best solution yet devised to solve the platonic problem of selecting a Philosopher King, is embodied in democratic government, in the jury-based justice system, in the academic publication system… and in evaluation of candidates for the CEP credential.

The CEP is special also in facilitating self-evaluation by potential applicants before they apply. This is accomplished by publicizing all essay examination questions (on ABCEP’s web site, www.abcep.org) from which applicants choose five to answer. In the CEP evaluation system, questions are not sprung on candidates by surprise. Unlike correct-or-incorrect multiple-choice or short-answer questions, essay responses are tailored to each candidate’s professional experience. Essay responses facilitate evaluation of the degree of depth and clarity of the candidate’s thinking, and his or her ability to communicate and persuade. More than being correct or incorrect, CEP candidate essay responses are judged by their quality and credibility, much like a manuscript submitted for publication. Each essay question is no more a surprise to the applicant than is the question addressed by a manuscript submitted for publication by a prospective author. In both cases a professional-quality product is expected and, if not provided, the result typically is rejection.

Three side benefits result from public availability of CEP examination essay questions. First, exam security is assured: no potential applicant conceivably can gain advantage over any other by obtaining prior knowledge of exam questions, as each potential applicant has equal prior access. Second, the ability to evaluate one’s readiness prior to application is enhanced. Third, the rejection rate of CEP candidates is, I believe, relatively low. When last calculated, the rejection rate was about 10 percent. This low number probably reflects the decision of less-prepared potential applicants to develop further professionally before actually applying for the CEP credential.

The CEP also is special if not unique in revolving around a Certification Review Panel whose activities are coordinated by a Lead Reviewer. Each CEP candidate is evaluated by such a Panel, to which fully seven members of the (currently 34-member) Certification Review Board are assigned. The large size of each Panel protects candidates against the possibility of a ‘rogue review’, as just over half of all respondents must favor certification; one dissenter will not prevail. Further, the Panel system preserves independence of peer reviews by directing all reviews to the Lead Reviewer, who is the only team member who sees the full scope of Panel member responses.


or see:
Michaels, Robert A. Three decades of the CEP credential and environmental professional certification. Environmental Practice (Cambridge University Press), 11(1):52-56, March 2009

Copyright © 2009 by The Center for Health Risk Assessment and Management, a Division of RAM TRAC Corporation