Even as unemployment numbers climb steadily upwards and the stock market continues its volatile roller coaster ride, it is far too soon to measure the full effect of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic and its impact on Career Technical Education (CTE) and industry-recognized credential attainment in particular. High schools, community colleges, area technical centers and places of business have shut their doors to protect learners and to comply with state orders. It is fair to predict that, based on the challenges states have encountered in maintaining industry-recognized credentialing opportunities during this time, credential attainment among secondary, postsecondary and adult learners will fall precipitously during the second quarter of 2020.
The slowdown in industry-recognized credential attainment will have a twofold impact on our current crisis. For one, industry-recognized credentials – which verify that an individual is ready for work in a given occupation – can act as barriers to entry in essential industries when education and assessment opportunities are not widely available. This threatens to weaken the workforce pipeline in sectors such as healthcare where access to talent is urgently needed.
Second, as states and businesses start planning for the economic recovery, industry-recognized credentials will help to get millions of recently unemployed Americans retrained and back to work. But without efforts to sustain credentialing opportunities now, there is the possibility of a critical bottleneck as soon as states reopen.
As we covered in an earlier blog post, states have been swift to address industry-recognized credentialing amid the Coronavirus. But what are the credential providers themselves doing to adapt to the crisis? How are they extending flexibility to states and learners without compromising the rigor and validity of their credentials?
Scaling Up Remote Proctoring
Advance CTE examined nearly 20 common credential providers to understand how they are addressing the Coronavirus. These providers were identified using ExcelinEd’s Credentials Matter database and were corroborated using secondary and postsecondary credential lists in three states.
One major takeaway from this research is that many credential providers are making the shift from in-person to remote proctoring, albeit at an additional fee. There are three common approaches to remote proctoring, each of which requires a computer and access to high-speed internet:
- Live Proctoring: In the live proctoring approach, the proctor is given access to the individual’s web camera and computer controls and can actively monitor their facial expressions, key strokes and web activity as they complete the exam. This is the most trustworthy, but also the most expensive, method and is best for high-stakes assessments.
- Record and Review: This approach uses artificial intelligence to identify risky behavior and alert a proctor, allowing them to respond in real time. This is a relatively secure approach to credential assessment and is recommended for mid-stakes testing.
- Just Review: The just review method verifies the learner’s identification and records a video of them completing the test, which is available for administrator review after the test is completed. This option is less secure and only allows for review after the assessment has been completed.
Virtual proctoring is the best way that credential providers have been able to meet the sustained demand for industry-recognized credentials amid the pandemic. However, the strategy is not easily scalable and requires significant investment of funds as well as human capital. Not to mention, the reliance on computers and high-speed internet exacerbates the digital divide. States and credential providers should take an equity lens as they work to scale up these opportunities.
Extending Flexibility to Learners and Workers
Aside from virtual proctoring, credential providers have extended flexibility and resources to learners, educators and test takers. To encourage continuity of learning, many providers have made curriculum, resources and other supports and materials available online for free amid COVID-19. The CTE Coalition, a growing partnership of industry associations, non-profits and credential providers, is one example.
Many are also extending eligibility windows for testing, either for learners who have recently applied or met pre-qualifications, or veteran workers whose certifications are up for renewal. This added flexibility takes the pressure off of learners and workers and ensures they can wait to complete their assessments until it is safe to do so.
Additionally, some testing centers have been offering in-person credential examinations on a very limited basis, and only for credentials in essential occupations. In these rare cases, the testing centers have committed to enforcing social distancing and upholding a strict cleaning regimen.
Amid the uncertainty with the Coronavirus, one thing is clear: a qualified and credentialed workforce will be an essential building block for the forthcoming economic recovery. It will take a coordinated effort within and across states, and in partnership with credential providers, to ensure a robust, talented workforce is ready as soon as the doors are open once more. The actions that states and credential providers take today will facilitate a swift recovery once things return to normal.
Austin Estes, Manager of Data & Research