GS: First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview. I first wanted to ask you to describe the International Code Council a bit… what it does, the industry it serves, the number of candidates a year, that kind of thing.
MP: Absolutely. The International Code Council (ICC) is a 64,000 member association dedicated to protecting the health, safety and welfare of people by creating safe, sustainable and resilient buildings and communities across the world. Our mission is to provide the highest quality codes, standards, products, and services for all concerned with the safety and performance of the built environment.
Our exams cover everything within the built environment, from residential and commercial building inspectors to plan examiners who review the plans, to the permit technicians who are at the front counter when you apply for a building permit, all the way through plumbing, mechanical, electrical, and energy conservation. We do contractor and trades exams with specific jurisdictions as well… a little bit of everything that is in that built environment.
GS: That’s a pretty large scope both in terms of the industries you serve and geographically. And what specifically is your position within ICC?
MP: I am the Director of ICC’s Assessment Center. I lead a team of 15 that is responsible for everything from the beginning to end of the exam cycle. Our team manages about 25 or 30 different exam development committees, made up of experts and volunteers from the industry, that work in various scopes to create, validate, and maintain our exams. We are also responsible for customer service and answering questions about test delivery, about the exam itself, and about the recertification process. Last year we administered 46,000 exams from a catalog that now encompasses about 440 exams.
GS: So those are different 440 different exam titles?
MP: Different titles, yes.
GS: Wow, that’s quite the program. My understanding is that you went through a pretty significant change in the administration model for these exams about a year ago now; can you describe for me what that change was?
MP: We have been talking for several years about the opportunity to do online, remotely proctored exams. We were specifically looking for a replacement for our paper and pencil exams that we’d been doing for about 20 years. After surveying our members and talking to different stakeholders, we decided to move over to an online, remote proctored model.
We were very interested in remotely proctored exams because we have a number of clients that are in remote areas and because of ICC’s international scope. In the U.S., candidates in the Dakotas, Montana, Colorado, and Nevada were driving three, four, or even five hours to a test site. They were having to stay overnight, miss a day or two of work, and incur a lot of expenses just to be able to take our exams.
We felt that remote proctoring would best allow us to serve candidates where they live and work as well as be able to really grow our business globally with the ability to test 24/7, 365 days a year. We now have that opportunity to test anywhere in the world that has basic connectivity and minimal hardware and software, through our partnership with Yardstick.
GS: Your description makes it sound so logical, but ICC is really on the cutting edge here… It was only last year that ANSI decided to accredit its first-ever virtually proctored, high-stakes exam program. What gave you and the ICC so much confidence in this method to become a true early adopter of the technology?
MP: I have been gathering data, attending conferences for the last seven or eight years, talking about remotely proctored exams, and watching the technology very closely to see if it is something that I would be willing to recommend.
By the time we went through the RFP process a couple of years ago, we had finally decided yes, the technology is secure enough. Is it going to prevent every instance of cheating? No, but no other modality of testing is going to do that either. I was confident enough to recommend to my management team that this is at least as secure and safe as any other method of testing. And, this method has many benefits: global reach as well as a quicker, more efficient, and less costly test experience for candidates because they’re not having to travel.
Currently, we’re working towards ANSI accreditation. We knew at the time of implementation that remote proctoring had not yet been accredited, and I’ve been watching for any news about accreditation of any online programs very closely over the years. I was confident that there would be accredited agencies using remote proctoring; it was just a matter of time. We are going through the accreditation process with both computer-based and virtual proctoring because we understand the value of accreditation. We want to give our clients every confidence that our certification program is the best for their needs.
GS: And how would you say that the adoption of virtual proctoring has changed your exam business?
MP: It really has opened up the ability for us to do a number of things that we have not ever been able to before with computer-based testing and paper and pencil tests. We can now test anywhere in the world. We do not have to worry about shipping exam papers, about whether they will arrive on time or get lost in the mail, or about finding reliable proctors. With online proctored exams, I have confidence in the security of the system.