Psychology boards to add new EPPP-2 exam

red checkmark by piotr siedlecki via publicdomainpictures.netThe Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) has announced the development of the EPPP-2 (or EPPP Step 2), a new licensing exam for Psychologists. States would adopt it as an addition to, and not a replacement for, the current EPPP. Even though the test is in the early stages of development, it’s already controversial.

The intent of the new test appears good. The ASPPB and its member boards want to test new psychologists on not just their knowledge, which the current EPPP covers, but also their skills. Measuring competency is difficult but important. It certainly is consistent with licensing boards’ mission to protect the public from incompetent practitioners.

According to the ASPPB, the EPPP-2 will be a computer-based test that will assess competency through “‘innovative item types’ such as the use of vignettes, avatars, multiple-choice items, and items with multiple correct responses.” There is some precedent for this kind of skills assessment, though the American Medical Association has now passed a resolution calling for their Step 2 Clinical Skills exams to be abolished. (Clinical skills for physicians are assessed in the educational process. The Step 2 tests were considered expensive and redundant. Some Psychologists are arguing that their skills are also better assessed during their education.)

There has already been a fair amount of pushback against the new psychology test. ASPPB released a FAQ page earlier this month to answer some of the questions they have been getting. However, since the EPPP-2 is still in development, many of their answers are necessarily incomplete.

The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS) and the Committee on Early Career Psychologists sent a joint letter to the APA in June criticizing the EPPP-2 plan. Among their concerns was the cost. The current EPPP costs almost $700 in most locations, and it is likely that the EPPP-2 would be similarly expensive. (Interestingly, the ASPPB cited cost as one reason why the EPPP and EPPP-2 could not be combined into a single test.) The joint letter also expressed concerns about test development and sequencing. Placing another hurdle at the end of an already-long licensure process will only further delay many psychologists’ ability to begin paying down their educational debt. And early career psychologists owe a lot of money. New graduates enter the field with an average of more than $100,000 in debt.

In general, license exams do not serve their public protection intent. The EPPP-2 appears to be a well-intended effort to ensure clinical competence among new Psychologists. However, it is not yet clear whether the EPPP-2 will effectively measure anything other than a person’s ability to pass the EPPP-2.

Implementation of the new exam is not going to be immediate. The ASPPB is currently engaged in an occupational analysis to define the skills that the EPPP-2 should assess. Then they will work on developing mechanisms to test those skills. They have committed to making the EPPP-2 a valid and reliable measure, and the controversy around the test may actually help them achieve that. It will require that they produce and disseminate a significant amount of supporting data. It is perhaps early to criticize a test that has not yet been written, but skepticism here is healthy. And it’s likely to be ultimately helpful.