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History of Certification
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We hope you enjoy reading the below history of certification written and
submitted by Steve Simon, CER, CET, 2009 Certification Committee Chair.  It is intended only to provide the history of AAERT's certification program through 2009.

History of the AAERT Certification Programs

— Origins and Development

In the 1960s and 1970s, courts began to look for alternative methods of traditional stenograph court reporting for budgetary reasons. Those courts began using analog tape recorders to supplement coverage of lower courts and depositions. Tape recording technology changed from reel-to-reel recording systems to cassette tape recording systems through the early 1980s, and then to the development of digital recording systems starting in the latter part of the 1990s. As courts grew, so did the use of electronic and digital court reporting technology to the point that the technology is used in virtually all types of courts and discovery work. As budgets became strained to the breaking point and technology advanced, the courts struggled to find new ways to cover more with less. Many court systems now employ a centralized system of digital court reporting which provides one digital court reporter with the ability to cover multiple venues. Courts today now use a blend of court reporting technologies, including electronic/digital, stenographic, real-time, and voice writing with voice recognition software to capture and reproduce the spoken record.

The National Shorthand Reporters Association (NSRA) was founded in 1899 as a national association for court reporters utilizing the stenographic method of court reporting. That Association changed its name in 1991 to the National Court Reporters Association (NCRA).

The National Verbatim Reporters Association (NVRA) was founded in 1967 as a national organization for court reporters utilizing voice writing (formerly referred to as stenomask) technology. But until 1994, there was no national association for the group of people who have become widely referred to as electronic court reporters, and, therefore, no standardization and best practices developed and adopted for electronic court reporters on a national scale.

The American Association of Electronic Reporters and Transcribers (AAERT) was established in 1994. This provided a forum for electronic court reporters (ECRs) to network among one another on a national level and filled the void that existed for best practices and certification of electronic court reporters and transcribers who were using the electronic method of court reporting. The Association was co-founded by Connie Rill (California), Janet Harris (Wisconsin), and Steve Townsend (Arizona), soon joined by charter Board members Sunny Peer (Texas), Bill Wagner (Washington), Jim Bowen (New Jersey), Mary Ann Lutz (California), and Gloria Kron (Alaska). AAERT's first annual conference took place in April of 1994.

Because the Board of Directors realized the new Association would have no standing in the court reporting community without a viable certification process for ECRs, it established a certification program and appointed Jim Bowen as chair of its Certification Committee. Jim brought with him previous experience working on the Certification Board of the State of New Jersey and, therefore, had great insight into developing a certification program. The Committee also included Connie Rill, Bill Wagner, and Mary Ann Lutz.

With assistance from Bill Moran of the Administrative Office of the United States Courts in Washington, D.C., guidelines were established for recording and transcribing electronic court recordings.

The Board retained The Michael Consulting Group, an independent consulting firm in Sacramento, California, to help with recommendations for establishing certification testing procedures and guidelines.

Based on its review of similar certification examinations, The Michael Consulting Group made recommendations on testing protocols, including, but not limited to, proctoring the examination, scoring (including pass/fail rates), and notification of results. The Michael Consulting Group also recommended two separate certification tests, one for Reporters and one for Transcribers.

Based on these recommendations and guidelines, the certification examinations were formatted as they exist today.

Using resources from federal court reporting materials, specific state stenographic and transcriber certification materials, electronic court recording equipment manufacturers' specifications, legal resources, and information from experienced Association members, the Committee prepared the first written tests to be used in the certification program.

Many of these materials were also available to Bill Wagner as he worked on the first official AAERT ECR best practices guide. This Certification Test Study Guide documents best practices in electronic court reporting and transcribing, as well as serves as an aid to AAERT members as they prepare to participate in the AAERT Certification Examination process. The Guide used federal guidelines for transcription as its standard, because of the differences found among state-to-state guidelines.

Initial scripts used for Reporter Practical Examinations and for Transcriber Practical Examinations were written by Connie Rill, Bill Wagner, and Mary Ann Lutz. Video- and audiotape production was directed by Mary Ann Lutz.

The newly developed certification program was tested in 1995. As a result of that test, minor corrections and modifications were made to the test and the procedures. Certification Chair Jim Bowen reviewed the written questions, organized them according to the chapters of the Study Guide, and oversaw the preparation of additional questions based on the Guide to enlarge each section. He then reorganized the tests to separate Reporter written test questions from Transcriber written test questions. This established the test format in use today.

The first official certification examinations were given in 1996. AAERT established two testing certification test dates annually. The first certification test date and location is at our annual conference, and the second date is the last Saturday in October. The sites of the second test are selected regionally based on demand.

The format that was established called for three basic certification designations. The first designation is the Certified Electronic Reporter (CER); the second is the Certified Electronic Transcriber (CET); and the third is the Certified Electronic Reporter and Transcriber (CERT). A CERT certification is automatically awarded upon earning both the CER and CET certification.

Each certification package has two legs. The first leg is a written examination, and the second is a practical examination. Performance on individual written test questions and practical examinations are constantly reviewed to ensure accuracy and fairness.

As digital court reporting grew into acceptance in the United States, it became clear that AAERT needed to adopt a certification program for Digital Court Reporters (DCRs) as well as ECRs. In 2003, AAERT updated the Study Guide and developed a digital certification program. In the Digital certification test program, written test questions not applicable to DCRs were removed and replaced with questions relating to digital court reporting and transcribing. Practical examinations using analog tape recordings were replaced with digital recordings. Those certifications earned were CER**D, CET**D and CERT*D, respectively.

Since 2003, the number of analog certification examinations has dramatically decreased and the number of digital certifications has dramatically increased, to the point that at the present time more than 90 percent of all AAERT certifications earned are digital.

Electronic Reporter (Analog or Digital) Certification

It is AAERT's position that an ECR is not adequately performing his/her duties as a court reporter without ensuring a proper recording is being made. Monitoring the proceeding and creating sufficient annotations on a log sheet aid the transcriptionist in the production of the transcript from the audio recording, as well as enabling quick location of specific passages in the recording for review and playback as may be necessary.

Accordingly, to obtain a CER certification, the reporter is required to pass a 100-question examination and produce a comprehensive set of log notes from a court proceeding. The written examination is in three sections:

• Section One concerns court reporting and technical questions;

• Section Two concerns general court procedures and practices; and

• Section Three concerns vocabulary.

A 70 percent passing score must be obtained in each category to be considered a passing score. A member taking the examination has 90 minutes to complete it.

The second leg of the certification examination is the practical examination. The practical examination involves creating a set of log notes or annotations while observing a mock court proceeding. The log notes are scored on content and accuracy, on a variety of annotation criteria. An 80 percent passing score must be obtained to be considered a passing score. A member taking the examination is given 25 minutes to prepare his/her log notes, 40 minutes to observe the mock trial and create the log notes/annotations, and then an additional 25 minutes to complete and make any necessary corrections or changes to the log notes/annotations. AAERT has four videotaped tests for the practical examination.

Once a member passes both legs of the certification examination, he/she is awarded the CER certificate. If a member passes one leg, but not the other, then the member must take only that one leg that he/she did not pass again in order to complete the CER certification.

As the analog version of the certification (CER) deals mainly with the use of analog tape systems, the digital version of the certification (CER**D) deals with digital recordings. The written test questions are in the same three sections, but concentrate on digital reporting. The practical test requires the member to prepare his/her log notes on a laptop using annotation software, as opposed to handwritten log notes. AAERT has three practical reporter examinations on DVD.

Electronic Transcriber (Analog or Digital) Certification

While the CER and CER**D certification program concerns electronic and digital court reporting, the CET and CET**D certification program concerns electronic and digital transcribing. The basic examination procedures are the same. There are two legs of the examination. The first leg is the written test, and the second is the practical test.

The written examination is a 100-question test in three sections:

• Section One concerns transcript format and proofreading;

• Section Two concerns general court procedures and practices; and

• Section Three concerns vocabulary.

A 70 percent passing score must be obtained in each category to be considered a passing score. A member taking the examination has 90 minutes to complete it.

The practical examination is a transcription examination. Members are given a mock court proceeding recorded on four-channel audiotape. He/she is required to complete ten full pages of transcript (plus the title page, index and certificate). A passing score is 98 percent accuracy. A member taking this examination has 120 minutes to complete it. AAERT has four practical examinations on analog tape.

As the analog version of the certification (CET) deals mainly with the use of analog tape systems, the digital version of the certification (CET**D) deals with digital recordings. The written test questions are in the same three sections, but concentrate on digital transcription. The practical test requires the member to prepare his/her transcript from a digital recording on a laptop using digital software, as opposed to using an analog tape transcriber. AAERT currently has three practical transcriber examinations on CD.

Electronic Reporter/Transcriber (Analog or Digital) Certification

The CERT certification is obtained by receiving both the CER and CET certification. Similarly, to obtain the CERT*D, the member must receive both the CER**D and CET**D certification.

The Present and the Future of AAERT Certification

Since its inception, AAERT has maintained and upgraded its certification program through the present day. Digital court reporting has become an ever-increasing methodology used by the courts, and AAERT saw the need to adopt a certification program for digital court reporting. Therefore, the Association began digital certification testing in 2003, based on its analog tape certification program. In 2008, the Association upgraded all of its practical examinations, retiring old certification tests and introducing new ones, thanks to the efforts of Board members Jan Harris and Bill Wagner.

Since 1994, hundreds of members in states all across the United States have obtained their electronic/digital certifications through AAERT. The Association is now recognized in many states as the association best suited to offer certification for electronic and digital court reporters. Not only ECRs and DCRs are participating in the AAERT Certification program, but stenograph reporters who transcribe both from stenographic notes and digital recordings are, as well. Just as first envisioned back in 1994, AAERT has become the authority in electronic and digital court reporting, both in establishing best practices and in certification.

While it is clear that NCRA is the association dedicated to best practices and certification of stenographic court reporting, it is also clear that NVRA is best suited to providing best practices and certification of voice writing, and AAERT is best suited to providing best practices and certification of electronic/digital court reporting. None of the three organizations is competent to dictate practices/procedures/certification for the others. Each organization is uniquely suited to represent its own court reporting methodology.

* * * * *
A special note of thanks is owed to Jim Bowen, the first AAERT Certification Chair, who provided much of the material used in the preparation of this overview. It should also be noted that without the special efforts of co-founders Connie Rill, Jan Harris, and Steve Townsend, as well as Bill Wagner and Mary Ann Lutz, the AAERT certification program would never have happened.
— Steve Simon, CER, CET (Florida)
Certification Committee Chair, 2009

 

 

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