What ever happened to the written federal court interpreter exam?

May 21, 2018 § 16 Comments

Dear colleagues:

With all the noise and frustration surrounding the oral federal court interpreter examination fiasco, we have overlooked a group of colleagues left out in the cold with no updates and plenty of confusion: The candidates studying to take the written federal court interpreter certification exam scheduled for the summer or 2018. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts (AO) has been silent for many months and interpreters are concerned, puzzled, and they do not know what to do.

The AO’s official website redirects you to Paradigm’s webpage which shows this message: “Written examination registration dates will be announced in the spring of 2018, test locations will be announced at that time.”

This message has remained intact for months; no updates, no explanations, no changes.

In the weeks since my last widely read post on the oral exam, and despite all the comments by those who took the test in 2017, many federally certified court interpreters, and colleagues in general, raising serious concerns everywhere in social media about the judgment of those AO officials who hired Paradigm, and the lack of transparency and accountability after the administration of the test, the authorities who oversee the administration of the exam have done nothing to keep those who plan to take the written test during the summer of 2018 informed.

Apparently, silence continues to be the only policy coming from the federal judiciary. Our colleagues who plan to take the written exam do not know what to do. They do not even know if they should stop studying. Because from the lack of information they cannot even tell if there will be a written exam this year.

We do not even know for sure if the AO has severed its ties with Paradigm. There has been no official notice, and their own website continues to redirect all users who want information on the written exam to Paradigm’s website which shows outdated information where it claims that registration dates “…will be announced in the spring of 2018…” If this information is valid as of today, they better hurry up and publish the information before spring is no more.

I cannot help it but feel sorry for those whose lives have been on hold for several weeks while they wait to find out the exam dates and locations in order to make personal and professional arrangements to travel to the test sites.

If the exam has been postponed until further notice, please tell the interpreting community; if Paradigm is no longer the contractor for the written exam, please tell the interpreter community; if no details can be shared at this time because of pending litigation, please tell the interpreter community; If the negligent administration of the oral exam in 2017, and the decision to retest so many people will push the written exam into 2019, and if this will disrupt the regular 2-year cycles of  both oral and written exams, please tell the interpreter community.

This will make you look better and it will be a way to begin the road to recover credibility and trust. Remember, it is about transparency and accountability. Those at the AO must never forget they are the government. Those with the misfortune to take the oral test last year, and the ones suffering the uncertainty of the written test right now are the taxpayers.

We cannot lose sight of this unquestionable reality; dear friends and colleagues, we are protecting the profession, but we are also exercising our rights. To the handful of colleagues who feel intimidated by those who argue that the certification is not an entitlement and try to mask ineptitude and negligence when hiring Paradigm as a “technical difficulty”: Perhaps when you work within the government system for a long time you think that the federal government is some kind of a magnanimous god who favors court interpreters, also U.S. citizens, by granting them a certification. Do not be distracted by comments like the ones above. The real issue is transparency and accountability. The AO should come clean and explain why they hired Paradigm, admit fault, apologize, and communicate the way they plan to remedy this chaos, not only by telling those who took the exam they will now have a chance to retest. They must talk to those who want to take the written exam, and to the professional community.

Threats about pulling the exam are awful, distasteful, and baseless. The government cannot force the professional community into silence by threatening cancellation of the Spanish federal court interpreter certification program. They have not, and will not. These comments never came from an official source and should confuse no one. Navajo and Haitian-Creole certification programs were scratched because of docket and financial reasons. Spanish is used in all U.S. courts more than all other foreign languages combined. There is no rational justification to do something like that, so please ignore these rumors.

It is also important to remember that almost nobody who takes the federal court interpreter exam wants a guarantee to work in court. Sometimes staff court interpreters must be reminded that a federal certification is a means to prove skill and knowledge to many clients. The majority of the high-income earner interpreters I know make the bulk of their fees outside of court and work with a district court, making far less money, when they have no other assignment, or for personal reasons. A candidate who pays a fee to take a test has a right to demand performance in exchange for the fee. It is a service based on contractual obligations.

It is also of concern that people who are involved with voicing NAJIT’s policy or opinions have stated that this association with many members who took the oral test, who are waiting to take the written test, and who are voicing their anger with the way the AO has performed during this crisis, can claim that the Association has “no dog in that fight”. To be fair, this unfortunate comment came not from NAJIT’s Board and it has not been endorsed by the Association either.

Dear friends and colleagues, those of us who did not take the exam because we are already certified, or because our working languages do not include Spanish, or even those who practice our profession in other fields with nothing to do with the court system have a duty to defend and protect the profession, and a right to support our colleagues who were, and continue to be, affected by this negligent and careless actions. Resorting to smoke and mirrors like injecting Seltzer v. Foley is just a diversion tactic that will not work. That case questioned the rating criteria of the written exam; here the question is the ineptitude and negligence of those who hired Paradigm as the contractor in charge of administering the test, and the actions taken after the fact. Nobody has questioned the validity of the exam, nor the integrity of the raters. I have even said that I do not believe there was bad faith or the deliberate intent to cause harm by AO officials. All we are arguing is apparent negligence and ineptitude, and for that we are demanding transparency and accountability.

Implying that I have questioned the validity of the exam or the integrity of the raters only shows those who claim such things, and argue that people are angry because they did not pass the exam (even though no test results were out when these claims circulated in social media) have spread rumors without reading my posts.

Just like in other cases before: accreditation vs. certification of healthcare interpreters, exploitation of immigration court interpreters by a new language contractor, the court interpreter fiasco in the United Kingdom, the contractual and managing problems of the court interpreter program in New Mexico, abandoning the interpreters in conflict zones by Western Nations, the exploitation of telephonic interpreters by unscrupulous VRI service providers, and many others, I have no vested personal interest in these cases; it is nothing personal against government officials, language services agency owners, or professional associations; I just stand up, and will continue to stand up for the profession. I now ask you to share your comments on the written federal court interpreter exam of 2018. Please remember, personal attacks, disqualifications, foul language and surrogate defense of Paradigm, NAJIT, or the AO will not be posted.

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§ 16 Responses to What ever happened to the written federal court interpreter exam?

  • From the date the first “update letter” came out and I reached out to the AO, I argued the same things you argue, it’s all about transparency and honest, prompt communication to maintain credibility and to keep us, well, informed! I was able to get the AO on the phone for over 45 minutes, and then we followed up on our conversation via email, and I implored them to tell the higher-ups that their credibility is shot, and dying, and if they expect to have any semblance of calm and cooperation from the interpreter community, they need to be totally transparent, and often. Even if the problem isn’t going to be fixed immediately, that they should tell us the truth, always, and in a timely, regular manner – treating us like the professionals with whom they are contractually bound. Even if it’s to let us know that there are no news, let us know regularly.

    Of course, we know that we just got another letter a couple weeks ago letting us know, only, that some tests can be graded, and some cannot. And … that they’ll tell us in a few more weeks which will be graded. So, from my humble perspective, it is now confirmed: they’re just another inefficient, bureaucratic office with no credibility in my eyes.

    What a shame. I’m glad my schedule is full and I have no real “need” for the certification. I’m sorry for those whose future really does depend on having this certification (although I will argue that such a need is self-generated).

    I am also sorry for those waiting to take the 2018 written exam. A year ago, the AO web site said the same thing about registration “coming in the spring of 2017.” It was, I believe, in June or July when “the spring” finally came around, opening the door to Paradigm Testing and their circus. The uncertainty that they (both the AO and Paradigm) put candidates through ought to make them question everything they do. Well, at least now we know that those who failed and those whose tests cannot be grades, will have a second shot at it at no cost. God knows about the rest of the details.

    Oh well… Happy Monday, everyone. 🙂

  • Elisse says:

    I am currently a state certified court interpreter who, like many others, planned to take the written federal exam this summer. However, I’ve been following this situation closely and am not sure what to do. It is very difficult to make a decision when there has been absolutely no information. I am beginning to feel that the best decision will be to skip taking the written exam this year (IF it’s even offered) and wait to take it once things have settled down and there is order once again. Thank you for always keeping us informed of what’s happening (or, on this case, what’s NOT happening).

  • André Csihás, FCCI says:

    Hello again, Tony!

    Your blog is a wonderful venue for our profession through which we can express our opinions and feelings about a specific subject, but unfortunately it doesn’t go beyond that; I think that someone “in the government” needs to be made aware of this massive clamor from the profession.

    Is there a particular address, be it postal or electronic to which all these comments can be sent for the “proper authorities” to read and hopefully do something about this mess? I’m almost willing to bet that the “upper echelon” doesn’t even know what’s going on with this three-ring circus and more than likely, they’re unaware of the damage it is causing to our friends and colleagues.

    I think that your applicable blog contents along with the replies and opinions from the rest of us, would —hopefully— make for a wonderful and beneficial awakening somewhere in that maze.

  • Silvia San Martin says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

  • Lupita Arias says:

    Thank you for this information.

  • As an aspiring candidate for the written federal court interpreter certification exam, I am chronologically invested, in study and finance. I take part in the quandary with my colleagues waiting for their results of the oral portion. The whole conundrum has confronted me with a clear reflection that strengthens my ability to wait. Radical discontinuity best describes this debacle. Disruption is known to be the great awakener. The severity of the disruption in the certification process calls for a more significant and timely adjustment by those of us at the lower end of the totem pole. As articulated by Einstein “In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity”. Having a reason to halt along the way favors me in order to reconsider the old and to integrate the new. To take advantage of this halt I have to consider the full range of options. In trusting my own process I look upon developing my skills further. Taking a good look at the changing market of our profession in the USA, for me a quickening of my development is indicated here. As I watch for signs of spring unfold, not alluding to Paradigm‘s nor AO’s lack thereof, cluing towards graduate studies in interpreting (Fall/Winter term application deadlines). My preparedness to take the federal court interpreter certification exam has inspirited the seed of unrealized potential as a New York state court interpreter to take the leap and embrace the cognitive universe of conference interpreting. To me this whole fizzle is the calling to track down the implicit order within the chaos.

    • André Csihás, FCCI says:

      My dear colleague: I pray that you perceive yourself at a level far higher than that of the proverbial “totem pole”, and that your steadfast and unfaltering hankering, will bear the much deserved fruit.

  • Emanuela Enrico says:


  • Susana Gee says:

    A couple of issues here.
    First, Paradigm pulled the same fast one on those of us who took the oral in 2017. By the end of Spring I was desperate to find out when the exam would be. Paradigm FINALLY opened the registration in late June, only to find out that the administration dates would be in September. I left my entire summer open for the exam and had a PAID trip to Italy during the exact dates in September when the exam was scheduled. I cancelled the trip for the exam… After all, it is only offered every other year and I was not going to allow myself any excuses to fail it.
    Second, respectfully I completely disagree on the validity of this exam. Many of us have complained about the way the consecutive portion was administered. How can we be expected to self-administer the consecutive portion having to move a mouse, make selections on the screen, etc. in order to submit our response and move on to the next segment? Meantime, we are entirely focused on trying to remember what we heard, deciphering our notes and doing our best to render our response with the seconds ticking away on the timer. We were expected to move our eyes off our notes, find the mouse, locate the button on the screen, press enter and then locate the next button to press next. This is not the way we work in court! Again, all under timed conditions. I have a professional background in psychometrics and I do believe the consecutive portion of this exam was not only not valid but it was also unreliable.

    • Susana, thank you for your comments. If you have been reading all my posts and comments on the oral exam, you know that your complaint is almost universal. I agree that the consecutive section of the exam was poorly administered, and that Paradigm’s expectations were unacceptable. On the other hand, I believe the consecutive portion of the exam is scientific, valid, and reliable. The administration of the test was awful, shame on those responsible for it. The test itself is as valid today as ever.

  • Jose M Perez says:

    Next Week we get results.

  • Jose M Perez says:

    Dear Federal Court Interpreter Certification Candidates:
    The score reports have been taken to the AO’s mail room. I don’t know if they were in time to catch today’s mail. If they go out today or tomorrow, they should begin arriving by Monday or Tuesday. Please wait until at least Friday before contacting this office if your score reports have not arrived. Javier

  • Thomas J Hughes says:

    I have attended the Agnes Haury Court Interpreter Training Institute, and I am desperately interested in obtaining my FCICE. The lack of transparency regarding when, and if, it will be offered again is beyond frustrating and disappointing.
    I do hope that any pending issue is resolved with haste.

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