COVID-19 Update -- Phase II

September 9, 2020

Dear ACVP Members and Trainees,

 

As announced on August 28, 2020, the Certifying Examination Board (CEB), with the support of the Board of Directors (BOD), has determined a plan for remote administration of the 2021 Phase II Certifying Examination. The 2021 Phase II examination format will be modified.  Essay test items (glass slide descriptions and biochemistry cases) will be replaced with 100 multiple-choice test items specifically designed to assess comprehensive microscopic and data interpretative ability. As such, each Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Phase II examination will consist of 300 multiple choice test items designed to identify competent, entry-level pathologists. The College will utilize appropriate standard setting methods to determine a passing score for each examination.

 

The CEB recognizes the gravity of the decision to change the format of the 2021 Phase II examination, not only to candidates, but to all members of the College and the veterinary community who use the examination to identify specialists in our discipline.  The purpose of this communication is to provide insight into the decision-making process of the CEB which has been based on the information currently available.  In this time of uncertainty, much remains unknown.  Therefore, if details are lacking in this or in prior communications, it reflects the real-time speed in which plans are developing. The one absolute certainty is that the CEB is dedicated to providing a safe, secure and valid remote Phase II examination in 2021, the format of which is discussed here.

 

Why was the format of the Phase II examination changed for 2021?

 

The short answer is the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

Since pandemic circumstances dictated cancellation of the 2020 Tampa Phase II examination, ACVP’s BOD decided that it is essential to guarantee delivery of the 2021 Phase II examination. At this time, we cannot be certain that an on-site examination will be possible in Tampa in August 2021 thus a remote delivery method will be required. The CEB determined that remote delivery necessitated a format change. Vendors who are able to provide remote examination delivery simply cannot guarantee the reliability and security of essay and/or digital slide delivery.

 

What does ‘remote’ mean?

 

‘Remote’ indicates examination delivery at a local venue, either at testing centers (such as Scantron®, our partner for the Phase I examination delivery) or by live on-line proctoring. There are a number of factors, including vendor capability, cost, security, and candidate access which will determine ultimately how the examination will be delivered remotely.  Discussions with potential vendors are ongoing.  As soon as a vendor is secured and determinations are made, information will be disseminated on the specifics of remote examination delivery.   

 

Will there be digital whole slide images (WSI) on the remote 2021 Phase II examination?

 

No.

 

Why won’t the examination include WSI?

 

Although utilizing digitized whole slide scans is a future goal for the ACVP, there are currently limitations to this option in an examination format.  A few of these include: 1) the available vendors for remote examination delivery have no experience with incorporation of WSI; 2) there is high variability across the quality of scanned slides; 3) many candidates have limited to no experience with WSI and asking them to acquire this knowledge may divert their focus from other important aspects of preparation.  Although WSI may now be common in some pathology work environments, their integration into commercial examination platforms has not occurred yet. In addition, many residency programs have not yet integrated digital slides into their training.  The CEB is unwilling to risk having candidates take the examination on a newly created interface without adequate time to ensure its performance and security under numerous conditions.

 

The CEB has appointed a task force dedicated to evaluating digitization of the examination, the leadership of which was consulted regarding examination digitization for 2021.  This task force is composed of a diverse panel of ACVP Diplomates and is working hard to examine the logistics of digital slide delivery. However, the meticulous work of this task force will not be complete in time to implement any recommendations in advance of the 2021 examination. 

 

Why did you make the decision so early, instead of waiting to see where things are six months from now?

 

Procuring a vendor to deliver a remote Phase II examination requires much advanced planning in order to ensure secure and effective delivery.  Vendor contracts are typically signed at least 12 months in advance.  In order to deliver the Phase II examination remotely next year, ACVP had to commit to a delivery model now. The CEB felt strongly that candidates and trainers needed to be aware of a change in format at this time in order to allow for appropriate preparation. Specific details will be released as soon as they are finalized.

 

Will you post sample questions on the ACVP website?

 

A sample of representative test items will be posted. Multiple choice (MC) test items designed to assess comprehensive microscopic slide assessment or laboratory data interpretation will be in a format similar to the interpretive test items currently on the Phase II examination.  

 

How should we adjust our study plans?

 

The recommendation to acquire skills and knowledge as outlined in the Job Task Analysis remains unchanged. Although slide descriptions and biochemistry essays (for clinical pathology) will not be on the 2021 Phase II examination, these skills are still a necessary part of preparation for your career. For the 2021 Phase II examination, 100 MC test items will take the place of 10 to 12 essay questions, which allows greater coverage of disease entities and processes.  For veterinary anatomic pathologists, study should continue to emphasize performance and interpretation of gross, histologic, histochemical, immunohistochemical, molecular biological and ultrastructural examinations, and correlating results with clinical findings and clinical laboratory data. For veterinary clinical pathologists, study should continue to include interpretation of hematologic, cytologic, biochemical, and immunological examinations of blood, urine, body fluids, and other patient specimens, as well as histologic evaluation of surgical biopsies.  For both disciplines, interpretation includes correlating test results with clinical findings.

 

How can the College and employers trust that the candidates passing the 2021 Certifying Examination are adequately prepared as entry level pathologists?  

 

The 2021 Phase II examination will undergo standard setting to equate the relative difficulty of the test items with entry level competencies. Although the limitations of evaluating descriptive ability with MC test items is appreciated, the new 100 MC item module will test microscopy experience and knowledge in considerably more breadth and depth compared with 10-12 essay items. Standard setting and generation of a cut score will ensure appropriate relevance and rigor of the examination across formats and time.

 

Is this change permanent?  What will happen in 2022?

 

Remote delivery of the Phase II examination is unique for 2021 and necessitated by pandemic conditions. Retention of descriptive skills in future examinations will be subject to broad consultation within the College. No decisions for the examination format moving forward have been made. Any lasting changes to the examination format will be made with input from the College and its stakeholders.

 

Will there ever be descriptions on the examination again?

 

Manual grading of essays has limitations in regard to accuracy and precision, and is inconsistent with best practices for high stakes examinations. However, description is important in the practice of veterinary pathology, and should therefore continue to be part of entry level competency. The importance of descriptive relative to interpretative skills needs to be broadly discussed within the College, and reflected in future examination blueprints.

 

Additional questions and concerns?

 

A Town Hall session is being scheduled for the 2020 Annual Meeting (virtual). CEB leadership will be available to answer additional questions.

 

Please know that members of the CEB and BOD have spent countless hours deliberating the fate of the Phase II examination during pandemic times. After much consideration, the CEB voted unanimously that only a MC format will allow delivery of a valid and fair phase II examination in August 2021.

 

 

Sincerely,

 

Anne Lewis, DVM, PhD, DACVP

Chair, Certifying Examination Board

 

Melinda Camus, DVM, DACVP

Vice-Chair, Certifying Examination Board

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 30, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

 

In response to the public health threat and the ongoing uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the American College of Veterinary Pathologists Certifying Examination Board (CEB) has made the decision to cancel administration of the 2020 Phase II Certifying Examination. Although the CEB’s decision was based on the best interests of our constituents, we recognize that cancellation of the examination is an unprecedented action in the history of the College and presents a considerable hardship to candidates and stakeholders of the College. The decision to cancel the examination was extremely difficult and made after careful consideration of numerous alternatives. Ultimately, the delivery of a high-stakes examination, like the Phase II Certifying Examination, is itself an intricate process and not easily modified over a short time window without negatively impacting the candidate experience or the fundamental validity and security of the examination. 

 

Regarding the decision to cancel the 2020 Phase II examination, the CEB considered all options and the sole basis of our final decision was the health and safety of our candidates, the members of the examination committee, and the staff at the testing center at the American Board of Pathology (ABP). Our decision was informed by our promise to deliver a valid, fair examination that withstands the rigors demanded by both our College and the American Board of Veterinary Specialties.

 

The purpose of this communication is to provide insight into our decision-making process. 

 

Why was the Phase II examination cancelled?  Ultimately, due to the uncertainties created by the current COVID-19 pandemic, there was no scenario that provided a guaranteed date on which the 2020 Phase II examination could be administered safely for all involved. Based on the information currently available, no one can predict if it will be safe to travel in the time frames available for administration of Phase II. This means that every alternate date the CEB evaluated was subject to cancellation with potentially limited notice, based on the prevailing trends of COVID-19. This was true for any scenario which involved travel to any single location, whether that be Tampa or an alternate location such as Chicago or Tucson.

 

Why is the Phase II examination given in Tampa?  Phase II is given in Tampa because this is the home of our partners at ABP. The amazing group of individuals there runs a world class testing center, provides psychometric support, assures that the examination is secure and delivered with appropriate infrastructure and technology. The center is uniquely designed to accommodate examinations using microscopic evaluation of test material.

 

Why can’t you give the examination in August in Tampa to candidates who can get there?  Bottom line, ABP removed this option from consideration. The physician who runs the facility said that the risk was too great to administer the examination in August, given the rising number of cases in Florida. 

 

Why can’t you give the examination in November in Tampa? There were many restrictions in place, and possible cancellation, for use of the testing facility in November. ABP personnel indicated that the chances were very high that the global pandemic would not allow for safe travel at that time, and they advised us to cancel.

 

Why can’t you offer the examination in the spring in Tampa?  The American Board of Veterinary Specialties has a designated minimum time period between examination administrations for the same candidate. We would be required to give the examination in early February to comply with these requirements. With possible COVID-19 continuation or resurgence, on top of the possibility for winter weather impacting travel, this scenario was fraught with challenges that would make examination administration extremely difficult. In addition, the examination window would overlap with the credentialing and certification processes for Phase I, which would be challenging with limited volunteer and financial resources.  

 

Why can’t you offer the examination at an alternate site outside of Tampa?  All alternate locations such as Chicago or Tucson were equally subject to cancellation based on the prevailing risks associated with COVID-19. For example, the American Board of Radiology, which provides an alternate test site for the ABP in Tucson, has postponed all its examinations for 2020.

 

Why can’t you offer the examination at multiple sites in several states and countries?  Over 140 candidates from locations throughout North America and internationally were approved for the Phase II examinations in anatomic and clinical pathology. Due to the limited numbers of glass slides and concerns regarding examination security, it is impossible to coordinate administration of the Phase II examination in its current format at multiple locations across the globe. Additionally, the knowledge and interpretation (multiple choice question +/- images) portions of the Phase II examination are best viewed with specific software and monitor settings. 

 

Why can’t you use commercial testing locations like those used for Phase I?  Our testing partner for Phase I, Scantron, is not able to support the format of Phase II. Another significant hurdle has been lack of availability of alternate sites since facilities are prioritizing customers who have pre-existing commitments that were delayed by earlier COVID-19 disruptions. Sites are limiting the number of candidates to assure social distancing and are already extending their hours to accommodate their current clients. They are unable to provide slots for a full day examination.

 

Why were you able to make accommodations for Phase I?  The Phase I examination is a two-hour examination made up only of multiple-choice questions that was designed to be compatible with the testing facilities at Scantron. Scantron already had the infrastructure available to provide live online proctoring, allowing for changes to be made rapidly across the globe. Phase II is a different type of examination, which requires the use of glass slides, images, and computerized essay entry, none of which can be accommodated by the current Scantron infrastructure.

 

Why can’t you use digital slides so that travel isn’t an issue?  Going digital is a future goal of the ACVP and would probably have been useful at a time like this. In fact, the Board of Directors (BOD) and the CEB are in the process of forming a task force to investigate the use of whole slide images, specifically for this purpose. However, limitations to this option at the present time include: 1) our Phase I partner for examination delivery has no experience with whole slide technology and cannot make such rapid changes, due to prior commitments to other clients impacted by COVID-19; 2) the quality of scanned slides, particularly for cytology, is highly variable, and on short order, uniformly high quality could not be assured; 3) many candidates have limited to no experience with digital slides and rapidly acquiring this knowledge might divert their focus from other aspects of preparation; 4) the examination is equated, meaning that scores are adjusted to account for degrees of difficulty, compared with a base form examination. If a different mechanism of slide delivery were utilized, equating cannot be done meaningfully, which is of detriment to examination validity.

 

What happens now?  The ACVP will either refund candidates’ examination fees or transfer the fee to the August 2021 testing date. Candidates can request a refund by sending an email to exam@acvp.org. Refund requests must be received by September 1st, 2020. Examination fees will be transferred to the August 2021 testing date for candidates who did not request a refund. This year will not count toward a candidate’s number of attempts to successfully complete the examination, and re-credentialing will not be needed for 2020 candidates who were deferred to 2021 by circumstances of the pandemic. The next Phase II examination is planned for August 2021, and the testing window will likely be expanded to accommodate a greater number of candidates, and the possibility of continued social distancing practices.

 

What is the new cutoff for the reading list? Since the 2020 examination is cancelled, the cutoff date will change to June 30, 2020.

 

Please know that many individuals on the CEB and on the ACVP Board of Directors have spent countless hours deliberating about the Phase II examination and possible alternatives to cancellation. Saying that we are disappointed about the outcome during this year’s pandemic is a massive understatement. We acknowledge the implications of this decision to all of our stakeholders, particularly the candidates and their training programs, and we empathize. It is our sincere hope that the COVID-19 crisis comes to rapid resolution. We wish our candidates the best with their continued examination preparations and career progression as everybody faces severe challenges.

 

Sincerely,

 

Anne Lewis, DVM, PhD, DACVP

Chair, Certifying Examination Board

  

Melinda S. Camus, DVM DACVP

Vice-Chair, Certifying Examination Board

 

August 28, 2020

Dear ACVP Members and Trainees,

 

The Certifying Examination Board (CEB), with the support of the Board of Directors (BOD), has determined a plan for the administration of the 2021 Phase II Certifying Examination. Both the Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Phase II examinations will be administered remotely in August 2021. To accomplish this task, the format of the examination will be modified. Essay test items (glass slide descriptions and biochemistry cases) will be replaced with 100 multiple-choice test items specifically designed to assess comprehensive microscopic and data interpretative ability. As such, each Anatomic and Clinical Pathology Phase II examination will consist of 300 multiple choice test items designed to identify competent, entry-level pathologists. The College will utilize appropriate standard setting methods to determine a passing score for each examination. Additional details on the examination dates and delivery method, along with an updated Phase II candidate handbook, are forthcoming.

 

Sincerely,

ACVP Board of Directors

 

June 10, 2020

In response to the public health threat and the ongoing uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the American College of Veterinary Pathologists Certifying Examination Board (CEB) has made the decision to cancel administration of the 2020 Phase II Certifying Examination. 

 

Although the CEB’s decision was based on the best interests of our constituents, we recognize that cancellation of the exam is unavoidably disruptive and presents a considerable hardship to candidates and stakeholders of the College. The decision to cancel the exam was extremely difficult and made after extensive discussion of numerous alternatives. Ultimately, the delivery of a high-stakes examination, like the Phase II Certifying Examination, is itself an intricate process and not easily modified over a short time window without negatively impacting the candidate experience or the fundamental validity and security of the examination. The next Phase II Certifying Examination is scheduled for August 2021. Candidates have the opportunity to either roll their Phase II Examination fees to the 2021 examination or request a refund. 

 

It is our hope that candidates will continue to avidly engage in building experience at being the best possible pathologist. We believe that this spirit of immersion is most valuable to continued preparation for the certification exam and one's career beyond.

 

 

Anne Lewis, CEB Chair

Melinda Camus, CEB Vice Chair 

 

April 27, 2020

Test dates for the 2020 Certifying Examinations in Clinical Pathology and Anatomic Pathology have been changed to comply with social distancing guidelines at the testing facility.

  • The clinical pathology exam will be given on Monday, August 17, 2020.
  • The anatomic pathology exam will be given over a 3 day period from August 18-20, 2020.

In response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Certifying Exam Board and the ACVP Board of Directors have worked with the ABP testing center in Tampa, FL to identify alternate testing dates for the 2020 Phase II certifying examination.

  • In the event that the 2020 Phase II examinations cannot reasonably be delivered in August, the ABP testing center in Tampa has provided an alternate testing window the week of November 16-20, 2020.

Candidates will be notified on or before June 15, 2020, regarding whether or not the 2020 Phase II examinations will be proactively postponed to the November testing window. Please note the notification date has been moved from May 1 to June 15, to ensure the decision is based on the best information available at the time.

There will be no change to the scope or content of the 2020 Phase II examination if the examination is postponed to November 2020. The reading list deadline will remain at January 2020.

The deadline for withdrawal from the 2020 Phase II examination has been extended to the date that the examination is administered, either in August or November. If a candidate chooses to withdraw at any time up to the examination date, the ACVP will, at the candidates’ direction, either refund or transfer all 2020 registration fees to the 2021 examination. Withdrawal from the 2020 Phase II examination will not be considered an attempt or failure to sit the examination.

Thank you for your continued patience and understanding.

March 31, 2020

Dear 2020 ACVP Phase II Candidate Class,

The Certifying Examination Board (CEB) has heard from many of you regarding the upcoming certification exam, which is scheduled for August in Tampa, FL. We are listening and we empathize with this difficult situation. We also understand the gravity of any decisions to delay or cancel the exam. Whatever outcome is ultimately selected will certainly be chosen with consideration of all factors for the sole purpose of delivering a valid, fair examination that withstands the rigors demanded by both our College and the American Board of Veterinary Specialties.

The purpose of this communication is to provide insight into our decision-making process and to contextualize the complexity of the components that go into the delivery of a high stakes examination of this type. This document is written in question and answer format, so that each candidate can read those portions of interest.

Why is the Phase II examination given in Tampa, anyway?
Phase II is given in Tampa because this is the home of our partners at the American Board of Pathology (ABP). The amazing group of individuals at ABP run a world class testing center, with mechanisms in place to ensure that the examination is secure and that all technology works as it should. The center is uniquely designed to accommodate examinations using microscopic examination of test material.

Why can’t you just give the exam in August in Tampa to those of us who can get there?
At this time, we still hope to be able to give the exam in August in Tampa as scheduled, but we have no way of knowing if this will be possible. As of March 30, 2020, the state of Florida has the following restrictions to inbound travel: “All persons traveling to Florida from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut are required to self-isolate or quarantine for 14 days upon entry to the state or the duration of their presence in the state, whichever is shorter. Roadside checkpoints are set up on interstates to check for potential COVID-19 cases coming into Florida. Anyone traveling into Florida from Louisiana and other areas with substantial community spread of the virus will be subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine.” No one is able to predict when these restrictions will be lifted. If these or similar restrictions were are still effect in August, the majority of candidates and examination administrators will not be able to travel to the test center.

Why can’t you offer the exam at site(s) outside of Tampa?
At present, there are 144 candidates approved for the Phase II examinations in anatomic and clinical pathology. These candidates train in many countries, spanning four continents. Due to the limited numbers of glass slides and concerns regarding examination security, it is impossible to give the Phase II exam in its current format at multiple locations across the globe. Additionally, the knowledge and interpretation (multiple choice question) portions of the Phase II examination are best viewed with specific software and monitor settings. Alternate locations are generally not able to provide this infrastructure. Another significant hurdle has been lack of availability of alternate sites as facilities are prioritizing customers who have pre-existing commitments that have been delayed by earlier COVID-19 disruptions.

Why were you able to make accommodations for Phase I?
The Phase I examination is an examination made up only of multiple-choice questions that was designed to be compatible with the testing facilities of our Phase I partner, Scantron. Scantron already had the infrastructure available to provide live online proctoring, allowing for changes to be made rapidly across the globe. Phase II is a different type of examination, which requires the use of glass slides, images, and computerized essay entry, none of which can be accommodated by the current Scantron infrastructure.

Why can’t you just use digital slides so that travel isn’t an issue?
Going digital is a future goal for the ACVP and would certainly be useful at a time like this. However, there are significant limitations to this option at the present time. A few of these include: 1) our Phase I partner for exam delivery has no experience with whole slide technology and cannot make the necessary arrangements for an August delivery date; 2) there is high variability across the quality of scanned slides, particularly in clinical pathology ; 3) many candidates have limited to no experience with digital slides and asking them to acquire this knowledge before August may divert their focus from other aspects of preparation; 4) the exam is equated, meaning that scores are adjusted to account for degrees of difficulty, compared with a base form examination. If a different mechanism of slide delivery is utilized, equating cannot be done meaningfully, which is of detriment to candidates and scoring validity.

Why can’t you just pick a date further in the future so that we will all know the exam date?
We would love to do this. It would be helpful for everyone’s planning. However, scheduling of the ABP facility is not determined by the ACVP. Many specialty examinations are given at the testing facility and several that were scheduled for April and May have already been cancelled, so will have priority for rescheduling. Our partners at ABP tell us that they cannot offer us a specific rescheduling date at this time and have advised us to wait and see where the situation is in mid-June. If Phase II is postponed, it is anticipated that December is the earliest it could be rescheduled in Tampa.

What happens if the exam is postponed?
We don’t want this to happen. But, if the global health crisis that we are currently experiencing prevents us from holding the examination in August, the ACVP will do two things: 1) we will, at the candidates’ direction, either refund or transfer all 2020 registration fees to the postponed examination date; 2) we will make sure that 2020 does not count as an “attempt” or count toward years allowed to attain certification. We will also continue to work closely with our partners at ABP to see when rescheduling is a possibility.

What happens if the exam is cancelled?
We certainly don’t want this to happen either. But, if the health crisis persists and we are unable to travel, or if we are unable to reschedule, or due to lack of test center availability, cancellation may be the only option. If that happens, the ACVP will, at the candidates’ direction, either refund or transfer all 2020 registration fees to the August 2021 testing date. Similar to postponement, the 2020 candidate eligibility would be extended to the 2021 exam period.

What if I cannot get my ADA paperwork completed by the deadline?
We recognize that many medical facilities are closed for non-emergent care. The ACVP Credentialing Committee will work with the team of physicians at ABP to evaluate each candidate on a case by case basis and will communicate with affected candidates individually.

Do you realize that delaying the exam might impact my job prospects and/or pay rate?
We are very sensitive to this reality and recognize that most, if not all, of you have been living on a trainee’s salary for several years. As in all years, we know that board certification will make trainees more competitive and marketable. All of us have been residents and train residents and understand the economic reality of this situation. Nevertheless, it would make sense for employers to be mindful of the current public health emergency that we are experiencing and take the circumstances into consideration.

If the Phase II examination is postponed or cancelled will the cutoff for the reading list change?
The cutoff date of January 1, 2020 will remain if the 2020 Phase II examination is postponed. No new material will be added to the scope of the exam. In the event that the examination is cancelled outright, the cutoff date will change to reflect the 2021 cutoff date (January 1, 2021).

Please know that many individuals on the CEB and on ACVP Council have spent countless hours deliberating about both the Phase I and Phase II examinations. We are committed to offering you the opportunity to take a valid and fair exam, as soon as the timing safely allows. We sincerely hope that we do not have to follow in the footsteps of our European colleagues and our colleagues at the ACVIM who have cancelled 2020 certifying examinations. However, we will make an informed decision as quickly as we can, based on the limited information that we have available. We will continue to communicate with you as decisions are made. Thank you for your continued patience. We wish you all good luck in your exam preparations and good health in the coming days.

Sincerely,

Anne Lewis, DVM, PhD, DACVP
Chair, Certifying Examination Board

Melinda S. Camus, DVM, DACVP
Vice-Chair, Certifying Examination Board
Chair, Exam Assembly and Administration Group, Clinical Pathology

Amanda Fales-Williams, DVM, PhD, DACVP
Chair, Exam Assembly and Administration Group, Anatomic Pathology

 

March 20, 2020

Dear Phase II Candidates,

We have been closely monitoring the rapidly evolving domestic and worldwide pandemic related to COVID-19 during the last several weeks. There is tremendous uncertainty at present regarding what will happen in the coming months.

As of now, plans for Phase II Certifying Examination are being assessed. By May 1, we hope to know whether having the examination in August will be feasible.

We continue to track the latest news from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, as well as state and local health organizations regarding this pandemic. We encourage you to stay up to date by visiting the resources listed below.

The health, safety and well-being of our global community is our highest priority. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to everyone impacted by this global health crisis.

Take care of yourselves and stay tuned for our updates.

ACVP Council

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
World Health Organization
Food and Drug Administration
Florida Department of Public Health
Tampa Department of Public Health

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