The State Courts System is developing a program to assist trial court administrators in assessing the qualifications of court interpreters. This program includes the use of qualifications examinations. The Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) has administered qualifications examinations in Spanish and Haitian Creole in Tampa, Tallahassee, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach and Miami. The following is intended to respond to some frequently asked questions about the program.
What are the requirements to interpret in the State Courts System in Florida?
There are no statewide regulations regarding the qualifications or employment of court interpreters. Individual circuit courts are currently responsible for determining the qualifications of interpreters who work in that circuit. Screening in the trial courts in Florida varies widely. Several circuits require Spanish and Haitian Creole interpreters to be tested before working in their courts, using a variety of testing instruments.
Why is the State Courts System of Florida developing a statewide testing program for court interpreters?
Many circuit courts in Florida do not have the resources or expertise to assess the qualifications of court interpreters. The State Courts System, with the assistance of a Court Interpreter Advisory Workgroup (CIAW), is devising a set of strategies to help courts improve court interpreter services throughout Florida. Among those strategies is a program to administer written and oral qualifications examinations on a rotating basis around the state. A registry of court interpreters who have passed these qualifications exams (and who have consented to be included on the list) will be made available to court administrators and interpreter coordinators statewide to help them select the best qualified interpreters.
For what languages does the State Courts System have court interpreter oral qualifications examinations?
There are currently qualifications examinations available to the State Courts System for the following: Spanish (4 versions), Russian (2 versions), Vietnamese (2 versions), Korean, Hmong, Polish, Cantonese, Laotian, Haitian Creole (2 versions), Arabic, and Mandarin. These tests are available to Florida through the State Court Interpreter Certification Consortium, of which Florida is a member. Initially testing in Florida was primarily in Spanish and Haitian Creole. The extent to which testing is available in other languages is determined by the availability and cost of qualified, trained raters to rate and score the examinations. Russian, Vietnamese, Korean and Cantonese examinations have been offered in Florida in the past year and are expected to be made available at least once each year. A new test in Somali is under development (2002).
Interpreters of Languages for Which No Oral Qualifications Exam Is Available
For languages in which the development of an oral qualifications examination through the State Court Interpreter Certification Consortium is unavailable, interpreters are encouraged to attend the two-day orientation and take the written examination (Part I-III).
If you register initially for a language for which there is no oral qualifications examination at the time you register, as soon as a test becomes available for that language, you will be eligible to take the oral qualifications exam provided you achieved a minimum score of 70% on all three sections of the written exam.
Absent testing for interpreters in most languages, interpreters may wish to obtain "accreditation" as translators by the American Translators Association (ATA). Although credentials in translation do not constitute credentials for interpretation, they are better than no credentials of any kind. The ATA's accreditation is about the only credential in testing available for many languages. More information about the ATA can be found at their web site: www.atanet.org.
What if I complete the orientation training session but decide not to take the written exam?
Candidates are not required to sit for the written exam if, after completing the orientation session, they decide not to continue the qualification process. However, the registration fee will not be refunded. Candidates may also schedule to take the written examination at a future date.
I completed orientation training prior to July 1, 2002, but I have never taken the oral exam. Am I required to take the written test before scheduling for the oral exam?
Yes. Candidates who began the interpreter qualification program in Florida or any other Consortium state must take all three components of the written exam and score a minimum of 70% on each section in order to be eligible to take the oral exam and/or attend the skill building workshops.
I completed orientation training prior to July 1, 2002 and failed the oral test. Am I required to attend the training again? Am I required to take the written test before re-scheduling to take the oral exam?
Candidates are not required to attend the orientation training again. However, candidates who began the language interpreter qualification process in Florida or any other Consortium state must take all three components of the written exam and score a minimum of 70% on each section in order to be eligible to take the oral exam and/or attend the skill building workshops.
What is the State Court Interpreter Certification Consortium?
The consortium is the result of a cooperative arrangement developed by four state courts systems and the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). In 1994, Minnesota and Oregon enlisted the assistance of the NCSC to try to form a consortium of state court interpreter programs. Member states would agree to share court interpreter exams and abide by test security standards. Benefits include savings in test development costs, as well as interstate agreement on qualifications. Minnesota, Oregon, and the NCSC successfully negotiated with two states that had developed programs (New Jersey and Washington) to form the consortium in 1995.
Membership in the Consortium costs additional states $15,000, $25,000, or $50,000, depending on the size of the non-English speaking population. Additional dues or revenues may be assessed at a later date.
Florida joined the Consortium in July of 1997. OSCA staff attend the annual meetings of the Consortium. Currently, there are 29 states that have joined the Consortium.
Does the State Courts System have a test for court translators?
No. The qualifications examinations that are available to the State Courts System are oral performance tests and test only court interpreting skills, not court translating skills. The written exam is a multiple-choice, machine scorable English language test, designed to measure candidates’ knowledge of (1) general English language vocabulary; (2) court related terms and knowledge; and (3) ethics and professional conduct.
Does the State Courts System have a program for sign language interpreters?
Currently, the State Courts System does not have a testing program for sign language interpreters. The Florida courts do comply with the standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. That is, Florida provides qualified sign language interpreters when appropriate and necessary in order to ensure effective communication with persons with disabilities. In the absence of a State testing program, a court committee developed guidelines for the use of sign language interpreters in the court setting. These guidelines are also available on our websight.
Additionally, interpreters may wish to obtain training and/or national certification through the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc.(RID). Visit the RID's website for more information.
Are interpreters who pass the State Courts System’s test certified?
There is currently no statewide certification program for court interpreters, and interpreters should not claim that they are “certified” by the State of Florida, the Supreme Court of Florida, or the State Courts System.
Other certification programs for court interpreters exist in the federal courts and some state courts systems. The United States Administrative Office of the Courts (USAOC) certifies Spanish court interpreters through a testing program administered by the National Center for State Courts. The USAOC has also certified Haitian Creole and Navajo court interpreters and will develop exams in other languages. More information about the federal certification program can be found at their web site: www.cps.ca.gov/fcice-spanish
In the absence of a state program, the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida developed its own certification program for Spanish and Haitian Creole interpreters, including a written test, an oral mock trial examination, ethics code, and continuing education. Some other judicial circuits have instituted various testing devices and have local requirements that interpreters must meet. In order to discover what your local judicial circuit’s requirements are, you should call the court administrator’s office and inquire.
In the future, a certification program may be fully developed for the State Courts System of Florida. A passing score on the written and oral qualifications examination will be part of the certification requirements, and candidates will not be asked to re-take the tests. Certification requirements will also include attendance at an orientation session, an oath to uphold the code of professional responsibility, a background check, and continuing education. Candidates who are federally certified will not have to take the oral qualifications examination, but will be subject to the other certification requirements.
How were the Consortium’s qualifications examinations developed and where did they come from?
The Consortium’s qualifications examinations are developed by language and interpreting experts, as coordinated by the staff of the NCSC. The procedures employed by the NCSC to ensure rigorous and valid test construction are documented on the NCSC web site (currently www.ncsconline.org) and are quoted below: