Few ATA members would dispute the fact that Certification is the most important program the ATA is offering its members, or that bringing it into the 21st century by converting the exams into a computerized format is the most asked-for, while also the most radical change in the program in its 30+ year history.
Therefore, I assume you will want to have the most complete information possible before you, as a Board member, make a decision on the CCE (Computerized Certification Exam) project.
On July 25, in a telephone conversation with ATA President Scott Brennan, I learned that the Board was considering a call for proposals to find an alternative to ALTA [This was untrue. As I subsequently learned, the RFP had been approved at the Board meeting of July 24, 2005. See Minutes.], which was selected by the CCE Task Force to provide the testing system for the CCE. One reason he cited for this was that awarding a contract to a corporate member of the ATA could be considered unfair by other corporate or institutional members. It was unclear whether formal consultation of other corporate members was a legal requirement or a moral obligation for the sake of fairness.
I regret not having provided the Board, in my reports for the January, May, and July 2005 Board meetings, with detailed information about the Task Force's search for a suitable system provider. Now I feel, however, that some details of this search and the information it provided are important for understanding the Task Force's recommendation.
As soon as the Task Force decided on the basic format of the CCE--exams using third-party computers in a proctored environment--we initiated a systematic and extensive search for possible system providers. In addition to appealing to those involved in the discussions--members of the Task Force and the Certification Committee--to look for potential providers in their wider circle of personal and professional acquaintances, we searched the Web for commercial providers as well as institutions, such as universities, already using some type of e-testing software. We received suggestions from ATA members and investigated contacts from a previous attempt at CCE by Terry Hanlen. We researched other translators' organizations and consulted Jiri Stejskal, who had collected information about their certification programs. We visited dozens of web sites, and rejected most of them out of hand for various reasons, such as not supporting essay-type exams, no experience in foreign languages, policy against open-book exams, excessive cost, or, in the case of universities, excessive time that they would have to invest to customize their software for us. Some declined to submit a proposal as soon as they learned about the basic parameters of our program. Some of those who seemed to fit the bill and showed initial interest stopped answering our e-mails and phoe calls as soon as they learned about our specific requirements--the range of languages, security concerns, number of sessions, number of candidates per session, and especially the small number of tests per year.
We also considered during our discussions having special software developed for ATA. One reason why this idea was rejected by the Task Force was because it would mean an open-ended commitment on the ATA's part with no guarantee as of deadlines, cost, or quality of the product. I discussed this option with my son, who is a senior software engineer at a major software company, and he was willing to put a team together to bid on the project. However, he warned me that developing software for a program of the size of ATA's would most likely not be economically feasible.
The other reason why the Task Force rejected the idea of working with a software developer rather than a testing company was the need, in the first case, for a server of specific capabilities, and for the ATA to manage and service the software and possibly the hardware components of the system. Terry Hanlen was adamant in stating that the current ATA HQ personnel is not prepared to undertake this task, even if the software can run on ATA's current off-site shared server, which is by no means a given.
During our search we learned that, due to its size--about 500 exams a year--combined with its complexity, the ATA's program is of little interest to larger commercial outfits, be they educational institutions, software companies, or testing businesses. When we initiated discussions with ALTA, we weren't aware of the fact that they were corporate members of the ATA. Only during the subsequent exchanges did it become apparent that their interest was at least partly due to their status as ATA members, rather than to the revenue the CCE project might generate for them. As it is, they've invested a considerable amount of time and effort working with us and fine-tuning the features of the CCE.
I firmly believe that, as we found ALTA as an established commercial provider of computerized testing, we would have found any other corporate ATA member that is in the business of testing, language testing in particular. Therefore, I am convinced that a new search among corporate members would not turn up any potential providers with the experience comparable to ALTA's at a comparable cost. Such a search could only be justified, in my opinion, if formal consultation with ATA corporate members before awarding the contract to one of them is a legal requirement. On the other hand, I would consider a new search beyond ATA corporate or institutional members and among software companies as a vote of no confidence in, and rejection of, the results of months of hard work by the CCE Task Force, which would leave me no choice but to resign as its chairman. It would also carry the serious risk of alienating ALTA and thus possibly aborting the entire CCE project.
Therefore I repeat my invitation to you to visit the CCE Task Force's Yahoo group, peruse the messages exchanged, which can be searched by keyword, and the files, classified in folders, which include, among other things, information on some potential providers consulted and the results of our consultations. Of course, I'll be at your entire disposal to provide you with the information on our work you deem necessary over and beyond what you'll find in the Task Force's archives.
I urge you to consider all the facts before making a decision on the CCE. I'm confident that if you do so, you will accept the recommendation of the Task Force and the Certification Committee, based on a thorough study of all practical options, and authorize the Executive Director and/or the Certification Manager to sign a contract with ALTA as soon as possible.