Revisiting: Defining the Nature of the “Gap” between Interpreter Education, Certification and Readiness-to-Work
Amanda R. Smith, M.A., CI and CT, NIC Master, SC:L, Ed:K-12, Oregon
Elisa M. Maroney, Ph. D., CI and CT, NIC, Ed:K-12, ASLTA Certified, Oregon
In 2010 (Maroney & Smith), we submitted our preliminary findings as we commenced on a journey to discover whether there is a gap between college graduation and readiness-to-work and/or credentialing, and if so, how that gap could be defined. While the conversation regarding the gap continues (see Cogen & Cokely, 2016; Godfrey, 2011; Intelligere Solutions, 2017; Patrie, 1994; Ruiz, 2013; Stauffer, 1994; Volk, 2014; Witter-Merithew & Johnson, 2004), we conducted a longitudinal research project, in which 2009-2016 Western Oregon University (WOU) ASL/English Interpreting program seniors took the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment (EIPA) knowledge and performance examinations.
The EIPA scores have proven to be inadequate in informing us about the definition, actual existence, and extent of the gap between program graduation and entry-level competence (initial credentialing). However, a number of findings may lead to advances in interpreting, interpreter education, and legislation that may affect interpreters working in educational settings.
WOU has a long history of interpreter education beginning in 1976 with a short-term certificate program, followed in 1993 by a bachelor’s degree program, and, in 2017, by an entry-level master’s degree program to support the onboarding of new interpreters. In addition, WOU has been offering an MA in Interpreting Studies with an emphasis on teaching since 2011. The WOU undergraduate program is award-winning, granted with the first Sorenson VRS Interpreter Education Award of Excellence in 2008, and accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Interpreter Education in 2010. Additionally, WOU’s interpreting program has been responsive to legislative changes and needs of the state of Oregon.
In July 2008, the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) adopted an administrative rule requiring educational interpreters to attain a minimum Level 3.5 on the EIPA and have a degree or pass the EIPA-Knowledge test, or have certification recognized by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID) (ODE, 2008). In 2009, we began collecting data with the monetary award that was paired with the Sorenson VRS recognition. To continue this longitudinal study, grant funds were allocated to offset the cost of taking the written and performance assessments.
The purpose of the study was to determine the existence and extent of the gap between graduation, certification, and readiness-to-work for WOU’s ASL/English Interpreting students.
Participants in this research were comprised of 122 students progressing successfully in the undergraduate ASL/English Interpreting program at WOU between 2009 and 2016. Students who expected and were on track to graduate in June of each year with a degree in ASL/English Interpreting were eligible to participate. All students fulfilled requirements, including 3 years of college level ASL competence/coursework and other prerequisites (e.g., Introduction to the Profession of Interpreting and Linguistics) prior to applying to the program. Some students also completed elective course offerings (e.g., DeafBlind Interpreting and Theatrical Interpreting).
In choosing methodology, we relied upon the industry standard and the only legislative regulation for interpreters in Oregon, the EIPA. This was the only instrument we could administer prior to graduation and receive consistent results, allowing data collection to occur at approximately the same time in student development each year. The findings are limited to work in educational settings and to WOU graduates.
The EIPA, administered by Boys Town National Research Hospital, has been reviewed and found to be psychometrically valid and reliable (EIPA FAQ). All participants took the EIPA-Knowledge exam in March and the EIPA Performance exam in May and June at the end of their 350-hour 10-week internship. The EIPA was proctored by local test administrators (LTAs) who were program faculty. Students agreed to have the EIPA results sent directly to us.
The data analyzed includes EIPA test scores year to year, overall averages, ranges of overall scores, domain scores, individual competency scores, and comparison of scores of students with various minors. Additionally, the instrument was analyzed to determine what criteria is assessed and to determine if there are any predictors or connections to be made. In addition to EIPA results, data analyzed included overall GPA, additional courses taken, academic minors, internship type and location, and cohort size. The data was synthesized throughout the years and, after receiving a few years of data, a Special Education/Rehabilitation Counseling (SPED/RC) minor and a post-graduation supervision program were required of scholars receiving the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) stipend with the intention of better preparing and supporting them for the context and culture they would join as educational interpreters.
We will report on overall average EIPA scores and two variables, cohort size and academic minor, which demonstrated a significant difference to the scores. Other variables are being identified as we continue drilling into the data.
The cumulative average for EIPA scores for 2009-2016 is 3.39, with a range of 2.6-4.1. Eighty-nine percent of the scores fall between 3.0-3.9 (see Figure 1). Just over one-third (37%) of the graduates achieved a 3.5 or higher on the EIPA, meeting Oregon’s minimum state standard for work in educational K-12 settings.
In addition to looking at averages and ranges of scores, we considered the impact of numerous variables, two of which, cohort size and academic minor, showed significant impact.
When looking at how cohort sizes affect the average EIPA scores (see Figure 2 below), we see that the smaller the cohort, the higher the average score (3.46 to 3.34 for cohorts over 15). In fact, EIPA scores were significantly impacted by cohort sizes less than 13 (average 3.46). The smallest cohort size, 11, in the year 2012, resulted in all but one with scores above 3.5.
Minor in ASL
Students at WOU are required to complete a minor in addition to their declared major. The impact of ASL minors and SPED/RC minors on scores were compared. The results indicated a statistically significant difference in EIPA scores between the two groups with ASL minors achieving a higher average of 3.52 to SPED/RC minors’ average of 3.34. A statistically significant difference was also found between students with ASL minors and students with all other minors (not including SPED/RC), with ASL minors scoring higher at 3.52 than all other minors at 3.30. With the exception of the ASL minor, no other minor indicated a significant impact on final EIPA scores. In other words, our results show that when a student minored in ASL, they were more likely to score 3.5 or higher.
In early 2016, a survey was sent to all graduates between 2009 and 2015. Of the 105 graduates at that time, thirty-six responses were received, a 34% response rate. Ninety percent of those who responded reported full or part time employment as an interpreter.
Whether or not these graduates are work-ready, they are getting hired as interpreters.
We then reviewed what the EIPA assesses by revisiting the EIPA rating form and EIPA rating system. EIPA scores are based on 36 individual criteria, each worth the same number of points (5). We coded rating criteria into three categories: ASL production/fluency, English production/fluency, and interpreting. Of the criteria, 69% (25/36) align with ASL production/fluency, 17% (6/36) with English production/fluency, and only 14% (5/36) relate to the interpreting process (e.g., “lag time”). In fact, 86% of the criteria are related to linguistic skills, while only 14% seem related to interpreting tasks.
In the EIPA rating system, we looked at what the 3.5 score represents and found no separate description for a 3.5, so the description must fall between 3.0 and 4.0, captured in the figure below:
The description provided in Figure 4 represents linguistic skills, such as ability “to sign fairly fluently” and “uses space consistently most of the time.” In terms of interpreting, it would appear that the 3.5 level graduate “needs continued supervision,” is not yet able to convey “much of the classroom content,” and “may have difficulty with complex topics or rapid turn taking.” The apparent conclusions about how linguistic skills will affect the interpreting process and product are not supported by the EIPA provided descriptions nor the assessed items on the EIPA rating form. Therefore, using a 3.5 score to place a recent interpreting graduate in a K-12 classroom is questionable and arbitrary. Even if states use the EIPA level 3.5, we argue that this is not acceptable as an entry point for educational interpreters. In fact, Schick (Schick and Sonnier, 2017) stated that the minimum standard for educational interpreters should be 4.0, and ideally 5.0.
The data does not answer the questions we posed, but leads to questions about the shared understanding of work-readiness, the impact of pre-service education on work-readiness, and holistic assessment of interpreting work. This study highlighted the idea that the EIPA seems to be an assessment of language fluency, not interpreting skills needed to work in educational K-12 settings. Like the EIPA, interpreter education has primarily focused on ASL acquisition and competence of second language users. Historically, when interpreting students were not developing requisite ASL skills in short-term programs, programs were made longer and ASL requirements increased. This focus on ASL development neglects the development of the whole interpreter. In addition, the needs of heritage signers (Isakson, 2015; Williamson, 2015) and Deaf ASL users (Green, 2017; Rogers, 2016) are not addressed. The time has come in interpreter education and assessment to shift the focus from just ASL development/competence to include the professional practice of interpreting.
As a result of these findings, we are exploring changes to the interpreter education offerings at WOU. With other stakeholders, the Oregon legislative requirement of a 3.5 or higher on the EIPA is being revisited. In the future, we will share our ongoing research. We invite you to join us in moving forward the conversation about what credentialing should encompass, what having an interpreter who is “work-ready” means, and for what types of assignments “work-ready” interpreters are prepared.