'The Best Volunteer Experience in My Career’: An Interview with NCCA Chair Isabelle Gonthier
Dr. Isabelle Gonthier is the president and chief operating officer (COO) at Yardstick Assessment Strategies. She is an industry leader for creating and administering national licensure and certification exams and assessment tools and is currently the chair and a psychometric reviewer on the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), an advisor on the Certification Advisory Committee for the Canadian Network for Respiratory Care (CNRC) and the Research Advisory Council of the National Dental Examining Board (NDEB) and the vice-chair of the program committee for the Association of Test Publishers (ATP).
We spoke with Isabelle to learn about her career path, her passion for credentialing and her work with the Commission.
Can you tell us more about your career path and how you entered credentialing? How did you get to where you are today and what can others learn from your story?
I started my career as a psychometrician at Assessment Strategies (ASI) in Ottawa, Canada, right after completing my PhD. During my work with ASI, I managed a number of national credentialing programs, working with organizations in various sectors, including health, finance, tourism and IT. I worked for a few years in another consulting firm before moving on to work directly with FP Canada (formerly Financial Planning Standards Council), where I was in charge of their certification program and the exam development activities for their two examinations. It was during that time that I started my deeper involvement with ICE, as I was interested in getting more involved with the credentialing industry, connecting with colleagues and expanding my network. I started by getting involved with the education committee, then participated in a psychometric working group for the NCCA standards update initiative, then got appointed as a psychometric commissioner on the NCCA. At that time, I also started presenting at conferences (ICE and ATP), which provided me with some good experience and exposure within the credentialing industry.
At mid-point during my tenure at FP Canada, I started a joint position with FP Canada’s US counterpart, CFP Board, where I managed their examination program (a program that is NCCA accredited). It was a busy time but very formative for me, juggling between two organizations and two countries. The testing and measurement principles applied for each program were the same, but their application in the specific contexts, considering the scope of practice and maturity of the programs, required some nuances. This was something that was very interesting from my perspective, considering my consulting background.
Also, as part of my work with FP Canada, I had the opportunity to work closely with Yardstick, as they were their exam delivery vendor. It was a very collaborative relationship and we got to build some good processes and tools together. In an interesting turn of events two years ago, Yardstick acquired ASI and merged the testing division with ASI to create Yardstick Assessment Strategies (YAS), and I was appointed president and COO. My years of experience, both as a consultant in the testing industry and in managing two credentialing programs, in addition to my experience with various volunteer committees, positioned me well for this new role. I think one of the key factors in my evolution and recognition in the industry is that diverse experience, both from a consulting standpoint and program manager standpoint, gave me a well-rounded perspective and a comprehensive understanding of challenges from both sides and angles.
What do you enjoy most about being in the credentialing profession?
I enjoy the diversity of the work and the people I get to work with — passionate professionals, dedicated industry representatives, and smart and committed testing experts. I like the rigor within the industry, the commitment to excellence and the continuous desire to learn and grow.
Tell us about your work on the NCCA. When did you first join?
I joined the NCCA in 2014 as a psychometric commissioner. This has been the best volunteer experience in my career so far. It is hard work, but very rewarding. I became the vice-chair in 2016 and the chair in 2018. I am wrapping up my last year and will be chairing my last NCCA meeting in November 2019. The biggest reward for me working with the NCCA has been the collaboration with the other commissioners, and learning from these relationships. The commitment and dedication of this group of individuals is commendable and it has been a privilege to roll up my sleeves and do this important work of reviewing programs for accreditation. Every single discussion with the commissioners led to some important learnings for me, personally and professionally, and this is worth a lot from a volunteer experience.
The commitment and dedication of [the NCCA commissioners] is commendable, and it has been a privilege to roll up my sleeves and do this important work of reviewing programs for accreditation.
What interests you most in working with the Commission?
Working with the standards, reviewing programs and assessing them against the standards has been an amazing and humbling experience for me. It is fascinating to see how some programs are operating and how well-oiled and rigorous they are. Some programs have more struggles than others, but it is great to see improvements through various levels of review, and how feedback was implemented.
One of the best aspects of working with the Commission is to work with individuals from different programs and organizations with diverse experiences and perspectives. I have learned a lot from my colleague commissioners and getting to geek out with other psychometricians has been quite a treat, as well!
What changes have you seen in credentialing since you first joined the NCCA? What trends or changes do you see on the horizon that the community should be thinking about?
I think that programs are opening up more to innovation and new technology, and working on incorporating that into their processes and approaches. Credentialing has been a somewhat conservative industry for a long time, considering the stakes involved with decisions that are made in certifying individuals. However, I have seen an increase of interest and willingness to think outside the box and evolve in order to challenge the existing processes, while maintaining the integrity of the program. Technology can be disruptive, but it can also allow programs to broaden their reach and help them staying current, credible and sustainable.
What is your advice for those who are entering the field or are new to the profession?
Get involved, participate in educational activities (webinars, conferences, etc.), volunteer on committees, talk to other professionals to get perspective and learn with and from them, engage in forums and discussions, and present at conferences. All of these have been essential to my growth within the industry and continues to help me in doing my job and advising others in the industry (whether they are clients, colleagues or friends).