Friday, February 8, 2013

UP DATES-2/8/2013 & 12/15/2015 


 Growing Scandal of the Closure of the Merchant Marine Occupational and Professional Exam Data Base to the Public.

UPDATE: When this article first ran the Coast Guard National Mariner's Center had removed from Internet access the then present and evolving question data base for Merchant Mariner examinations. The National Mariner's Association (NMA) and the National Association of Marine Educators (NAME) had fought for years to get the examination question data base on the internet where marine educators could have input to it for years. Once it was available marine educators corrected countless questions that were in error or written in confusing language.  After a lengthy political battle the newly forming question data base being prepared under contract by non Coast Guard sources is appearing on the Internet. Marine educators are again finding errors. The electrical portion of the engineering officer and rating examinations being the area most in need of correction. Of particular concern are the illustrations used with questions in the electrical section. It appears that some questions are unchanged but have received new illustrations that don't illustrate the question, or the illustrations are new as is the question but the relationship to the question is at best "unclear". These aren't the only issues with the slowly emerging and evolving exam question data base but the good news is that the data base is again subject to communication with the nautical arts and sciences education and training community. The bad news is that there are so many questions and so few unpaid volunteer educators and the process of getting a question corrected is painfully slow.

UPDATE: 12/15/2015: Since we wrote the above the National Mariners Association has ceased daily operations as has the National Marine Educator's Association. There is no no organized professional effort directed to the correction of the Coast Guard merchant marine occupational license exam question base. Correction of the system is now completely dependent on individual effort. We hope this advice works better than it did in the homeland security sector but, ...if you see something say something. 

Nautical Classics

PHOTO: PD:   S/V ALEXANDER HUMBOLT, Named for the Oceanographer


The cover of our Nautical Classics Special Interest Page where Merchant Mariners may find many of the books on the suggested reading lists for Merchant Mariner occupational and professional examinations.

In our original post we wrote:

We have been providing our readers with a tour through some of the most famous of the "classics" of the nautical arts and sciences, and in the process explaining the relevance of the classics to the Coast Guard administered professional mariner occupational credentialing examinations. We have tried to explain how obsolete technology described in some of the classics is often not obsolete, but simply no longer "front line" in marine operations.We have also tried to explain why some older technologies are expected to be persistent in their appearance on the examinations into the future. In the process we have mentioned that the Coast Guard has already contracted for construction of a new examination question data base. This would be basically a collection of thousands of questions drawn from the source materials (particularly the "classics" described as well as the Code of Federal Regulations and other sources). That contract itself is in fact a source of great controversy.
 The collection of documents that were posted on the National Mariner's Association's (NMA) website will eventually be available through the Library of Congress (up date 12/15/2015). The opening document is a letter from the Secretary of the NMA to the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) complaining of possible wrong doing by specific officers of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) in the awarding of the contract. Attached to the letter to the Inspector General are copies of unanswered correspondence to the responsible Coast Guard officer and his superiors. According to NMA sources the Coast Guard Officer who first eliminated public access to the question data base retired and went to work for the classification society contracted to compile the new question data base.

 The GCMA letter has some surprising things to say about the importance of public access to the question data base. If you have been reading along the various descriptions of the classics so far you've no doubt noted our observation that there is no formal coordination between study text updating and examination construction. This was only a minor problem when public access to the data base was available. Marine education professionals could review the question base and observe when new technologies came into the examination construction process. This was an informal timing aid on updating nautical vocational curriculums and texts. Also the informal and regular review of the question data base by the marine educational community allowed the nautical scholars to petition the Coast Guard for the removal and reconstruction of inaccurate questions. The documents linked in here describe in part the number of faulty questions removed by nautical educator access.

  While it may seem like public access to professional examination data bases is a good idea from the test security view point, the NMA charges that test security is assured because the tests are made up of subject matter modules like "Rules to Avoid Collision'', "Navigation", "Seamanship", "Ships Business and Law", "Pollution Prevention", etc., of about ten to twenty questions each. The questions are pulled from a data base of thousands of questions and virtually no two tests are the same. No one could reasonably prepare by trying to memorize thousands of questions subject to periodic and irregular revision. According to the NMA the issue of test security vs test data base participation by the industry, maritime labor, and academics was resolved years ago by a Freedom of Information Act formal appeal. The NMA appears to seriously doubt the authority of the Coast Guard to over turn a precedent set by a formal administrative appeal. Editors note: The view of the NMA on this matter has been up held but NMA officials complain of general foot dragging in terms of implementation.

 This controversial issue is one of the reasons why American Admiralty Books must articulate so many exceptions to our predictions of the role of the "classics" in future test preparation. Readers who are interested in this controversy may want to review the 17 pages of the hyper link for a full explanation of the related issues. The NMA we should mention is a highly respected organization of professional mariners that studies safety, security, educational, and social welfare issues affecting seamen and produces an excellent collection of numbered reports, lobbies Congress for corrective actions, and communicates with the Coast Guard and other safety agencies and departments on behalf of mariner safety. While assisted into being by AFL/CIO affiliated maritime unions, the NMA itself is not a union, but a professional association that does not provide collective bargaining services.

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