By Brian Robertson
This is the second draft of this column. The original version was an argument against low pass marks on standardized security guard and PI tests. It was written in anticipation of an impending announcement regarding what the pass marks were going to be for the new security guard and PI tests in Ontario, and it was based on two predictions: (1) that the province would align with most of the other security guard testing standards across Canada and set the pass mark at about 75 per cent, and (2) that several industry leaders would publicly declare this to be an unreasonably high bar for their employees to get over.
By Brian Robertson
We’ll never know whether or not those predictions were well-founded.
When the announcement came out Feb. 25 the province revealed that, “in order to preserve the integrity and
security of the test questions,” it would not be revealing what the
pass mark will be. The public won’t get to know, employers won’t get to
know, trainers won’t get to know, students and licence holders
preparing to write the tests won’t get to know.
Close to 80,000 people will have to write these tests over the course
of the next year-and-a-half. Passing or failing this test will
determine whether or not people get to keep their jobs. Passing or
failing this test will determine whether or not people can start the
new careers that they want to in security. Important stuff. But the
Private Security Investigation Services Branch (PSISB) isn’t going to let them know what pass mark they need to attain.
As many as 10,000 to 12,000 of the first 80,000 people who write the
tests will fail them. After the test has been marked they will be told
that they have failed. But they won’t be told where they went wrong,
they won’t be told what answers they got wrong, they won’t be told how
many answers they got wrong, and they won’t be told what score they
All they will be told that is that they can now either look for another
career or pony up another $60 to write the test again; but they will be
given zero information on how to prepare themselves to do better next
time. It is ironic how much time and money the Province have put into
retaining experts in order to make sure that the training standards
would be pedagogically sound. It is difficult to imagine an approach
to learning that is less pedagogically sound than telling a learner
that he has failed and then refusing to tell him why.
The Province of Ontario has taken the six full years that have elapsed
since the Shand Inquest and boiled the idea of better training for
security guards down to this: you can’t get a security guard or PI
licence in Ontario until you beat the PSISB at a game of Battleship. You write the test once. The PSISB replies “Miss.” You pay another $60
bucks, take another shot, and the PSISB replies “Miss.” (“Miss.”
“Miss.” “Hit.” “Oooohhhh, you sunk my air craft carrier!”)
Or perhaps a better analogy (at least at this time of year) is Tim
Horton’s “Roll Up the Rim to Win” promotion. Given that the fee for
rewriting one of these tests is payable directly to Drive Test, you
have to wonder if each person who writes a test and fails it is going
to be sent a letter that just says “Please play again.”
The new Director of the PSISB, Lisa Kool, was brought in to replace Jon
Herberman mainly because a reporter from the Toronto Star had taken a
close look at the standards being employed by the PSISB and said that
they were inadequate. Ms. Kool seems to have come up with a rather
direct solution to the problem of people taking too close of a look at
the standards that the PSISB is following. But the problem with hiding
what you are doing is this: While you may make it harder for people
to accuse you of doing a bad job, you don’t leave people much basis for
concluding that you are doing a good job either.