Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists - Unacceptably high failure rate and unreliable results

Posted on Monday, August 13th, 2012 at 4:53am CDT by Pat M.

Product: Fellowship examinations

Company: Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists

Location: Building 3 Garden City Office Park 2404 Logan Road EIGHT MILE PLAINS QLD 4113


Category: Education

I have two related complaints:

1.An unacceptably high failure rate amongst current Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists Fellowship Candidates

In her report to at the most recent Annual General Meeting of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists the Chief Examiner noted a pass rate of 7 out of 18 Fellowship candidates (39%) in 2011 and 10 out of 23 candidates (43%) in 2012. Nowhere in her report did the Chief Examiner express concern about failure rates of >50% being unacceptably high nor did she consider the possibility that College procedures could be partly responsible for the majority of candidates failing to pass these examinations.

Candidates generally seek ANZCVSc Fellowship as a pathway to becoming registered veterinary specialists in a specific discipline, e.g. Dermatology, Ophthalmology etc. Depending on the individual discipline, in order to sit Fellowship examinations candidates must complete a veterinary degree (often with stipulations for additional qualifications) and undergo the equivalent of two or more years of direct, full time, supervised training under an existing specialist. They must have demonstrated competence by having published peer reviewed scientific papers and having submitted of an extensive log of clinical case reports. They will have paid around $A4500 to take the examination and most will have taken months off work to study for their examination. Having passed the initial hurdles, candidates have already demonstrated that they are highly motivated, capable academically and have invested a huge amount in time, money and emotional effort into learning the material stipulated by the ANZCVSc for their discipline.

When over half of the candidates who have invested this time, money and emotional effort are failing, something is wrong. Standards must be upheld but this applies equally to the institution setting the exam as it does to the candidates taking the exams. When so many candidates are failing there is a strong likelihood that problems exist with approved training programs, correlation between training programs and examinations, examiner training or examination design etc.

Resolution sought : That a transparent, independent enquiry be held into reasons for the unacceptably high failure rate for ANZCVSc Fellowship Examinations and what can be done to address the problem. The views of former Fellowship candidates, both passed and failed should be sought. Those making submissions should have assurance that submissions they make will not constitute a breach of professional etiquette or constitute grounds for civil proceedings or expulsion from the College or damage their chances in any subsequent examination.

2. Dishonesty, bullying and retention of unreliable results on ANZCVSc records.

Complaints about Fellowship examinations are not new. I sat a Fellowship examination in Avian Medicine (Cage and Aviary Birds) in 1991 in which I passed one written paper but was failed by the College by 5% in a second written paper and in the oral examination. I protested that the result should be struck from the record because of flawed guidelines and a flawed appraisal process,about which my subject examiner as well as avian specialists from North America and Europe concurred and wrote to the College expressing their views.

To give just some examples, the guidelines stipulated the topic as ?Cage and Aviary Birds? or ?Poultry? whereas the questions covered cage and aviary birds as well as poultry, wild birds, ratites, raptors and racing pigeons. Many of the questions could not be answered within the assigned bibliography yet there was no mention in the guidelines that the bibliography was not comprehensive nor was there guidance about what other material a candidate should study. Negative marking was used in multiple choice questions, so a candidate would be scored 0/20 even if 10/20 questions were answered correctly if the remainder were answered incorrectly. This marking system does not fairly reflect a candidate?s level of knowledge and cannot be justified statistically: negative marking is not used in specialist examinations internationally. These flaws alone accounted for more than the five percentage points by which I was failed and they were not the only flaws in the examination. Full documentation can be provided if requested.

My heart goes out to current candidates who have been failed by the College as I recall the anxiety I felt when College Council refused fair independent review of my first examination and insisted that the unreliable results should stand. My confidence in the integrity and competence of the organisation was undermined. The Chief Examiner wrote to me nine weeks before my second exam, requiring that I agree in writing that the upcoming exam would be based on a 26 page discussion paper that my subject examiner had prepared. The discussion paper acknowledged (but didn?t resolve) many of the flaws that occurred in the first examination, greatly expanded the range of species examinable and increased the bibliography from 117 to over 700 volumes.

I sat and passed the second examination and so was made an ANZCVSc Fellow and became a registered specialist but remained appalled at the dishonesty and bullying that had occurred and have continued to campaign for the unreliable results to be expunged. Motions at three Annual General Meetings to allow independent review were opposed by College Councillors and defeated.

When a review of College examination processes was conducted in 2008, the reviewer removed mention of this complaint from her final report but wrote to me privately querying ?Are there any procedures for having the result removed from your academic record (even if it has to remain on the College record for legal and research purposes)?? Subsequently I received a letter from College Council threatening civil proceedings for defamation and also threatening expulsion from the College. They have yet to act on these, and subsequent, threats. As well as my veterinary degree and ANZCVSc qualifications I also hold two Masters Degrees and a PhD and speak with experience as an examiner, teacher and candidate in a range of settings. It diminishes the ANZCVSc that this complaint has not been dealt with in accordance with the ethical standards the College promotes and purports to uphold .

Resolution sought: removal of the unreliable results from ANZCVSc records.


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