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Postgraduate exam under study

Honolulu—The 2009 House of Delegates approved a measure that could lead to the development of a new entrance examination for postgraduate dental education programs.

Resolution 56H-2009 calls for the ADA to appoint a task force to study the new exam's feasibility to evaluate dental school seniors' and graduates' competency to successfully complete postgraduate programs.

ADA President Ronald L. Tankersley is appointing the task force with input from the communities of interest.

For years, general practice residency and dental specialty program directors have used candidates' scores on the National Board Dental Examinations as part of the evaluation process for determining competency for postgraduate programs. But as of Jan. 1, 2012, the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations will report Part I and Part II results on a pass/fail basis.

"The purpose of the National Board Dental Examinations is to assist state boards in determining the qualifications of dentists who seek licensure to practice dentistry," said Dr. Bruce D. Horn, chair of the Joint Commission on National Dental Examinations. "State boards are concerned with successful completion and entry level competence."

Having validated Part I and Part II every five years, Dr. Horn said that the Joint Commission is confident that the pass/fail point along the measurement scale is highly reliable. However, the exams were not designed for making comparative assessments of student abilities. There are relatively uniform increases in measurement error as scores depart from a passing score.

The new entrance exam envisioned in Res. 56H-2009 would be an important element in the ADA's development and maintenance of educational standards, said Dr. Tankersley.

"Development and maintenance of standards is among the most important things the ADA does, because those standards are necessary for us to remain a self-regulating profession, instead of a trade," said Dr. Tankersley. "As a profession founded on science and education, it's important that the ADA take the lead in those areas."

The task force will include two members of the Council on Dental Education and Licensure, one from each ADA-recognized specialty, a general dentist representing a general practice residency or advanced education in general dentistry program, one from the American Student Dental Association, one representative of a special interest area in general dentistry and one consultant. The House included those communities in the resolution to ensure the effort's long-term success, said Dr. Tankersley.

"It would be presumptuous for the ADA to develop a psychometrically appropriate exam for postdoctoral evaluation without evaluating the commitment of the different postdoctoral programs to use the exam, and assuring their input into the design of an exam developed for their use," he said.

Res. 56H calls for the task force to survey the existing postgraduate programs and develop a detailed business plan with options for funding to include subsidization by the existing dental specialties.

The task force will also consider several features for a potential examination: (1) validity for quantitative scoring and secure format; (2) input from communities of interest, such as dental specialty organizations, graduate school educators, the American Dental Education Association and testing organizations to help develop, evaluate and maintain the examination; and (3) quantitative exam scores to be reported to individual examinees, dental school deans and graduate dental education/residency programs upon examinee request.

Finally, the task force will develop a comprehensive plan for consideration by the 2010 House of Delegates.