On Licensure Issues
September 1, 2006
Surveying licensure has helped protect the public for more than a century. And while some of the challenges the surveying profession faces today to meet this mission are new, some have been with the profession from the beginning.
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) exists to help its member licensing boards protect the health, safety and welfare of the public. What is NCEES doing to meet the surveying challenges of today and help shape surveying licensure of tomorrow? Read on to find out.
Improving ExaminationsNCEES is a nonprofit organization that provides leadership in professional licensure through many services that promote uniform laws and licensing standards. One of the chief ways it does this is by developing the national surveying and engineering examinations that licensing boards use as part of their candidate evaluation process.
NCEES volunteers devote thousands of hours each year to developing the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) and the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) examinations. The licensed surveyors who serve as volunteers work with staff exam development engineers to write and review questions, develop exams from the bank of approved questions and review assembled exams to prepare them for printing. They also perform multiple reviews and pretests of the exams.
The first step in determining an exam's content is performed by a large cross-section of professional surveyors across the United States. This vital part of exam development is the Professional Activities and Knowledge Study (PAKS). When an exam is being developed, a PAKS survey is sent to a diverse group of licensed surveyors in all NCEES jurisdictions. NCEES uses rosters provided by its member licensing boards and the American Congress on Surveying and Mapping (ACSM) to solicit participation.
The questionnaire asks respondents to rate surveying tasks with this in mind: "How important is the competent performance of each task in protecting the health, safety and welfare of the public?" The survey also includes a list of knowledge areas; respondents are asked to note which ones are necessary to perform specific tasks. Respondents are then asked what percentage of the exam they recommend should cover each of these knowledge areas. Their answers define the blueprint of the actual exam.
PAKS have determined the content of NCEES exams for decades. In the 1970s, the council used this type of analysis to create the first surveying exams. Since then, a new PAKS has been conducted every six to eight years. The council's move in 1999 from an experience-based FS exam to a knowledge-based FS exam was based on responses to a PAKS survey.
The most recent PAKS was conducted in 2004. More than 5,300 licensed surveyors-10 percent of the U.S. surveying population-received a PAKS questionnaire. About 400 photogrammetrists and GIS specialists were also asked to participate. About 1,900 surveys were returned for a 33 percent response.
As a result of this PAKS, new exam specifications for both the FS examination and the PS examination went into effect this past October. The changes for the FS exam were minimal. Some of the subject areas were consolidated, and there was an increased emphasis on practice-related changes. For the most part, though, the 2004 PAKS validated the move five years earlier to a knowledge-based exam. The PS exam experienced more updates. The existing knowledge areas were reorganized, and greater emphasis was given to new technologies such as GPS measurement and data-reduction analysis.
NCEES has always devoted a great deal of time and energy to ensuring that its exams are relevant and valid. In recent years, this has meant that it is also devoting more resources to making sure the exams are secure. One of the biggest challenges NCEES faces is keeping up with increasingly sophisticated technology that can be used to compromise exam content. NCEES has been addressing this issue for several years, most recently with the more stringent enforcement of policies about what is allowed inside the exam room.
A couple of years ago, the council passed measures to provide a list of approved calculators and to establish an examination retake policy to control question exposure. At this year's annual meeting (to be held this month) the council will vote on a motion for NCEES to begin actually supplying calculators to all examinees at the exam sites beginning in October 2008. NCEES is going to such lengths to protect the exams because it believes the public's health, safety and welfare depend on the soundness of the licensure exams.
NCEES does more than create examinations, though. In recent years, NCEES has also seen a need to devote time and resources to raising public awareness about the value of licensure and the surveying profession.
Ramping Up Student OutreachThe NCEES Board of Directors is asked more and more often by the general surveying population, "How are we going to recruit more surveyors?" "Will the number of graduates entering the surveying professions meet the demand for the future?"
I have said at almost every professional society meeting I have attended this year as president of NCEES that we need to be promoting the profession more aggressively than we currently are. We need to raise public awareness that surveying is vital to our welfare and to the standard of living we enjoy. We need to convince young people that surveying is a worthwhile and gratifying career choice. We need to continue to promote licensure as going hand-in-hand with the profession. And we need to start getting that message across to students at a time when they begin thinking about possible career paths.
Over the past six years, NCEES has increased its focus on promoting the value of licensure. Concern about exam usage-the number of people who take the exams each year-is one reason the council has stepped up its outreach efforts. The numbers of examinees for both the FS and the PS examinations have been relatively flat over the last decade. This past year, NCEES scored a total of 2,739 FS exams and 1,572 PS exams for the October 2005 and April 2006 administrations. The numbers for the FS exam showed a decrease of 1.4 percent from last year and PS exam usage declined by 3.6 percent.
To this end, NCEES recently worked with ACSM and the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) to develop the Surveying Speaker's Kit. The Speaker's Kit is intended to help attract young people-particularly middle school and high school students-to the surveying profession. The kit emphasizes the importance of education in preparing for the challenges of practicing professional surveying in an ever-changing technological environment. An accompanying website, www.surveyingcareer.com, was also developed.
The Surveying Speaker's Kit is designed to make it easy for presenters to communicate about surveying, no matter their level of experience in public speaking. Since its introduction last year, the kit has been distributed to every U.S. surveying licensing board, each college and university with an ABET-accredited surveying program, and every state affiliate of NSPS. About 300 kits have been distributed.
NCEES is also reaching out to students by supporting programs such as the ACSM/NSPS-sponsored Trig-Star competition. In 2004, the council also initiated and sponsored a special award on Best Land Surveying Practices as part of the Future City Competition for seventh- and eighth-grade students held during National Engineers Week. The award recognizes the team that best emphasizes the high standards used by surveyors to help protect the public's safety and welfare. This year, NCEES also sponsored the competition's essay contest, which highlighted the role that a surveyor or an engineer has in designing, developing or completing an engineering feasibility plan.
Recruitment efforts also need to focus on making middle school and high school students aware that the path to surveying licensure is increasingly requiring graduation from a four-year college program.
Standardizing MobilityWhen states put licensure laws into place, they rely on model guidelines that NCEES develops: the Model Law and Model Rules. In 1995, the council voted to change the definition of Model Law Surveyor to make it education-based rather than experience-based.
The committee that proposed the changes presented the following rationale to the voting delegates: "The existing definition of the practice of land surveying is a very narrow and outdated one. It does not recognize the expanding current practice of surveyors. Neither does it recognize that [many] states either already have or are working toward a four-year degree requirement for surveyors. With the evolution of technology, practice, knowledge, credentials and more diverse practice of surveyors, the definition is due for a complete overhaul." Delegates agreed and passed the motion.
A Model Law Surveyor now refers to someone who graduates from an EAC/ABET-accredited surveying engineering group program or an ASAC/ABET-accredited surveying and mapping group program; passes the eight-hour NCEES FS exam and six-hour NCEES PS exam; completes four years of acceptable surveying experience after confirmation of a bachelor's degree from a surveying/geomatics program; and has a record clear of disciplinary action. The licensing board may also require a Model Law Surveyor to pass its state-specific exam for surveyors.
Today, many jurisdictions require at least a two-year degree, and about a dozen require a four-year degree for surveying licensure. However, statutes in the jurisdictions differ from one another, and they differ from the Model Law. These differences can become an impediment to mobility for a license holder in one jurisdiction seeking a license in another jurisdiction. Finding ways for licensing boards to obtain uniformity in the licensure and renewal processes is one reason NCEES charged this year's Advisory Committee on Council Activities with developing a plan to promote the adoption of the NCEES Model Law by all member licensing boards.
Another impediment to licensure mobility is the time it takes for jurisdictions to process comity applications. NCEES assists licensing boards in this area through its Records Program. Record holders who meet the requirements of the NCEES Model Law are designated as Model Law Surveyors. Several jurisdictions have an abbreviated application process for record holders, such as completing only a minimal portion of the standard application. Because the record contains transcripts, references, professional experience and a verification of passing the NCEES exams, the jurisdiction in which a license is sought by comity does not have to wait to receive and collate those items. More than 40 jurisdictions accept a council record for surveyors.
A relatively new potential hindrance to mobility is continuing professional competency (CPC) requirements. Currently, more than 30 jurisdictions have put or plan to put in place CPC requirements for licensed surveyors and engineers. The variability in current CPC requirements and practices presents a recordkeeping and renewal challenge for surveyors and engineers licensed in multiple jurisdictions. This year, NCEES formed the Continuing Professional Competency Task Force to analyze the current system of CPC requirements and to find ways to improve it.
The council also recently created the Registered Continuing Education Providers Program to address this issue. The program, which began operating last month, offers a comprehensive registry of continuing education providers that have demonstrated adherence to high-quality, effective practices in professional education for engineers and surveyors. The program's website (www.rcep.net) provides CPC requirements by jurisdiction and lists registered providers. It is my hope that once the council begins qualifying CPC providers, all states will recognize them and accept them as meeting the requirements for continuing education.