The ATA Chronicle - July/August 2020 - 38

CERTIFICATION FORUM

BY DAVID STEPHENSON

Who Are ATA's Certification Graders?

A

t present, ATA's Certification Program
enlists the services of more than 130
ATA members, who are commonly
known as "graders." That name, however,
does not do full justice to the range of
activities performed by these individuals
on behalf of ATA and the program. Who
are these people, how are they selected and
trained, and what do they do?
All graders are ATA members who
work professionally as translators and/
or interpreters and are certified in their
respective language pair.1 Potential new
graders are identified by three main
channels. First, if a candidate performs
especially well on a certification exam,
the graders of that language pair may
request the translator's name from ATA
Headquarters. Second, a translator may be
recommended to an existing grader by a
colleague or client. Third, an individual will
occasionally contact ATA Headquarters or
the Certification Committee chair expressing
a desire to become a grader.
Each workgroup, which is headed by a
language chair (LC)2, considers the merits
of potential new graders and, if possible,
reaches a consensus decision about inviting
them on board. The LC then sends the
potential grader's CV and references to the
Certification Committee chair, who has
the final say about whether to proceed
with recruitment. In the case of a positive
decision, the final step is a "grading test,"
in which the candidate is given a prior
actual exam and asked to grade it using
the program's tools (e.g., Flowchart for
Error Point Decisions and Framework for
Standardized Error Marking) and other
materials. The prospective grader and the LC
then discuss the results, and if satisfactory,
the person becomes a new grader.
So, what are the criteria for becoming a
grader? An individual should have ample
experience working as a professional
translator. A background in evaluating
translation performance in other contexts
is a big plus, but not required. Besides
broad knowledge and competence, it's also
important for a grader to have experience
in group projects, because grading is a
highly collaborative activity. Therefore, each
member of the team should be willing to
learn and compromise, as well as be able to
maintain humility and set their ego aside.
Other sought-after qualities are compassion
and awareness of the limitations imposed by
exam conditions.
38

The ATA Chronicle | July/August 2020

Once an individual is officially on board,
training continues under the LC's direction.
For a certain period, the new grader is
paired with the LC when grading exams3,
which offers further opportunity to align the
grader's practices with program standards.
Of course, new graders also take part in
the formal training opportunities available
to all graders. These include a Wednesday
afternoon session right before the conference,
as well as an all-day grader meeting held each
spring at ATA Headquarters. These sessions
are essential opportunities for graders to finetune their assessment skills, share experiences
and challenges with their colleagues, and
contribute to enhancements of grading
methodology, including testing new tools.
In addition to these in-person training
opportunities, the program is also developing
online content, an enhancement that has
been further spurred by the pandemic.

GRADER ACTIVITIES
I already mentioned that graders do much
more than just mark exams and practice
tests. The grading process itself is the
only activity for which graders receive
substantive compensation.By far the
most time-consuming activity, for which
graders receive next to no pay4, is passage
selection and preparation.This involves:
■	

Identifying source-language texts that
could be used for exam material.

■	

Trimming them to a suitable length.

■	

Revising them to eliminate unfair
challenges, better balance the reasonable
challenges, and improve cohesion.

■	

Submitting them for inspection by
the counterpart group (i.e., those who
grade in the opposite direction, usually
native speakers of the source text).

■	

Preparing sample translations of the
text and reevaluating its suitability on
that basis.

■	

Identifying and articulating challenges
and submitting those materials to a
passage selection task force (PSTF), which
comprises experienced graders who assess
whether the proposed passage meets the
program's overarching passage standards.

Only after the PSTF approves a passage
does it go into use in the exam. At that point
(or sometimes sooner), the workgroup
prepares passage-specific guidelines

(PSGs). At the very least, these guidelines
consist of a list of the challenges previously
identified by the workgroup, together with
one or more successful solutions to these
challenges, unsuccessful solutions, and
errors markings for the latter (e.g., error
category and points). After the passage
goes into use, the PSGs are augmented
continuously by adding information about
errors actually encountered in grading and
how they were marked, which promotes
consistency throughout the specific
workgroup. Maintaining the PSGs and
consistency in general is another timeconsuming task performed by graders, often
requiring extensive consultation by email,
Skype, and other means of communication.
Despite the volume of work, much
of it unpaid, most graders find the job
extremely rewarding. Anyone who is
interested in taking on this task or getting
more information is welcome to contact
me (david@stephensontranslations.com)
or Caron Bailey, the Certification Program
manager, at caron@atanet.org.
NOTES
1.	
Exceptions are graders in newly offered
language pairs, who are carefully vetted
through ATA's professional networks. These
graders set up their exams under the
mentorship of the Certification Committee,
then grade exams until newly certified
replacements can be recruited, allowing the
initial graders to cycle out and earn their
own certification.
2.	

The language chair position is rotated among
the workgroup's members on a regular basis.

3.	

Each exam is graded by two graders, who
must agree on the pass/fail evaluation.

4.	

A small fee is paid for producing a
sample translation during the passage
selection process.

David Stephenson, CT is the
chair of ATA's Certification
Committee. An ATAcertified German>English,
Dutch>English, and
Croatian>English translator,
he has been an independent translator for
over 30 years, specializing in civil litigation
and creative nonfiction. Contact: david@
stephensontranslations.com.
www.atanet.org


http://www.atanet.org

The ATA Chronicle - July/August 2020

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