AFA Certification & Testing
American Farrier's Journal | 2006
Evaluating Farrier Certification Testing
As Chair of the AFA Education Committee my committee and I have been
given the task of developing a plan to increase the pass rate of the AFA
Certification testing. This is a standing mandate for the Education
The AFA Certification pass rate is, anecdotally, 18%. The big question is
why. Testers will tell you that those that present themselves for testing are
not prepared. Applicants to the test will tell you that the test is arbitrary and
geared toward 'contest' shoeing.
My comments are not meant to offend. I am not pointing a finger at any
individual or group. I am not condemning the Certification program or those
that have worked hard at forming and implementing the plan. This is an
attempt to look at a problem, pass rate, and insert a different perspective.
In designing a testing program you must be careful that a test is not
measuring the skills and knowledge that one would like to see but rather the
knowledge and skills that the participants posses.
For example, fifty farriers present themselves for testing at the Certified
Level with all fifty farriers shoeing full time for the past five years. They all
support their families, make their mortgage payments and pay their bills
with shoeing income. Since their sole source of income is shoeing they are
considered professional farriers.
The AFA's "Farrier Certification Program guide" states that; "The Certified
Farrier component is available to farriers who have at least one year of
horseshoeing experience, and have demonstrated knowledge and skill to
perform hoof care on a professional basis."
If only nine (18%) pass the Certified test then the test is not a valid
measurement of skills and knowledge. The other 41 obviously have skills
and knowledge or they would not be able to support their families shoeing
for the previous five years. To the horse owner the 41 farrier's that failed
performed work that was detrimental to their horse's well being, that's why
The conclusion that can be drawn is either (1) the test is invalid in that it
doesn't measure the skills and knowledge of the everyday farrier, or (2) that
the everyday farrier does not posses the appropriate skills necessary to pass
the test. Either way the test is an invalid measurement.
Please note that the term invalid is not a negative term condemning the
certification process. It is a descriptive term used to gauge the relationship
of teaching to testing. Invalid just says that there is a problem in the
relationship. That what is taught and what is tested are out of alignment.
There is no blame assigned in this article.
A well -grounded assessment plan has three components
- a statement of educational goals
- a valid set of instruments to measure achievement of these goals
- a plan for utilizing the results from the assessment to form
polices to improve the educational process.
1. A statement of educational goals. The AFA has no program to teach
horseshoeing. In fact the Mission Statement of the AFA is: "To further the
professional development of farriers, to provide leadership and resources for
the benefit of the farrier industry, and to improve the welfare of the horse
through continuing farrier education." There is no provision for training the
layman to be a farrier.
Since there has historically been an adversarial relationship between schools
and the AFA, there is no continuity in the training that leads to testing. The
schools and the Certification Committee have not united in a clear and
concise statement of educational goals. The Certification testing must be a
measure of skills and knowledge taught in schools and schools must teach to
a standard that gives the students the highest possibility of passing the tests.
To increase the pass rate, the exam process has to be the result of agreements
between schools and the AFA.
2. A valid set of instruments to measure achievement of these goals.
This is the certification test. However, an 82% fail rate speaks to the
validity of the test. By definition of the high fail rate, the current
certification process is not a valid instrument to measure skills and
The current Certification process is an attempt to educate through testing.
The AFA is attempting to use the Certification process (an instrument to
measure achievement) as a statement of educational goals. This means that
the participant must fail the exam enough times to learn the skills necessary
to pass. Without a statement of educational goals, a method to teach what
will be tested and valid instruments to measure achievement the testing
becomes more of a contest than an educational instrument.
3. A plan for utilizing the results from the assessment to form polices to
improve the educational process. There is no statistical data maintained
for the AFA Certification process. Without detailed data guiding the writing
and rewriting of tests the task becomes meaningless. Each certification
committee rewrites are nothing more than the reinvention of the wheel.
Without detailed data about scores for each category in the practical exam,
each question in all written exams or detailed data about the shoes there can
be no plan for education to increase needed skills.
Detailed data must be gathered and maintained so that (1) the areas that
show low skills and knowledge can be identified and a comprehensive
program developed by the schools and the AFA to teach those skills or
knowledge, (2) poor questions or tasks can be identified and clarified or
removed from the testing, (3) those testers with high pass or high fail rates
can be educated to insure that they are testing for the statement of
educational goals established by the AFA and the schools, (4) to identify
schools that have low pass rates so that their curriculum may be modified to
reflect the statement of educational goals.
It is imperative that the identity of testers and schools in the data gathering
be held in strict confidence to avoid negative stigmas that may have personal
or financial implications.
The first challenge then is the expression of the outcome in terms of
components that are sufficiently complete and detailed for use in broad
instructional settings. What does one need to know at which level and how
do we incorporate that into school teaching curriculums and AFA testing.
There must be a designation of categories; such as Classroom, Forge and
Trimming/Shoeing. Each category must be broken down into sub
categories. For instance the Category of Classroom can be broken down into
(1) anatomy, (2) conformation, (3) lameness, (4) gaits, (5) shoeing for
Each subcategory can then be tested in four areas; (1) knowledge,
(2) comprehension, (3) application, and (4) analysis. Knowledge would be
remembering previously learned information, memorization. Comprehension
would be the ability to grasp the meaning of the information. Application
would be applying the knowledge to an actual situation. Analysis would be
breaking down objects or ideas into simpler parts and discussing how the
parts relate and function.
A simple example might be a rocker toe shoe. At the entry level one might
require that the participant identify a rocker toe shoe (knowledge). That the
rocker toe shoe enhances breakover (comprehension). Make a rocker toe
shoe from a keg shoe (application), and that the rocker toe shoe can be used
for shoeing a horse with navciular disease (analysis).
At a higher-level, knowledge may require that the participant know a variety
of rocker toe shoes, half round, EDSS shoes, etc. Comprehension may
require knowledge of where breakover would be for the various types of
rocker toe shoes. Application may be the participant hand making a rocker
toe shoe and fitting it to a foot. Analyzing may be an essay discussion of the
use of rocker toe shoes for a specific lameness and specifically why the
rocker toe shoe works for that particular lameness.
In addition to the four areas there needs to be a chronology in the learning
and testing. For example, take the knowledge of horse bones. What does a
participant need to know about bones at the Entry Level? In addition to the
Entry Level knowledge about bones what else is required for the Certified
Level. The Tradesman level must know the Entry Level and Certified Level
knowledge plus additional knowledge. No question or skill should be
inserted into the testing until the chronology is measured throughout the
different levels of Certification. The different test levels cannot be written
and designed in a vacuum. Without this building block of teaching and
testing the entire process become haphazard.
However, the development of an educational plan can not be accomplished
until: (1) schools, the AFA Education Committee and the AFA Certification
Committee develop a working relationship, (2) there is continuity between
the specific skills and knowledge that is taught and tested, (3) a plan for the
collection of statistical data is developed and implemented, and (4) quite
bluntly a re-education of those individuals, in authority positions who (a)
feel that minor cosmetic errors, that are not detrimental to the horse's well
being, are considered a failure and (b) think that the concept of teaching
what is being tested is somehow 'dumbing' down the process.
Every University, College or vocational school that teaches an occupation
that leads to licensure develops a relationship with those that test for the
license. Schools are expected to teach the skills and knowledge that the
students are required to know to be licensed. The testing agency is expected
to test on the skills and knowledge that was taught.
The licensing agencies and the schools are constantly meeting to discuss
problems, current trends and prevailing thoughts in the occupation as well as
methods to increase the pass rate. The licensing agencies have clinics,
seminars and newsletters in the attempt to work with the schools to increase
the pass rate. Accurate and detailed statistics are kept and studied by both
the educators and the testers so that problems areas can be flagged and
To be given broad ideas about what is expected and to then be tested in the
abstract is not a valid measurement of skills or knowledge. As long as there
is an 82% fail rate, with four to six percent farrier participation, the AFA
certification process is not a valid measurement of the skills possessed by
the everyday professional farrier.
The necessity of building bridges with educational institutions is
immeasurable to the AFA Certification process. The AFA and schools need
to develop classroom lectures, forge practices and practical shoeing
guidelines that are geared toward teaching the skills necessary to
successfully perform on the test. That is education.
Bob Smith, B.A., CF, AFA #504
Pacific Coast Horseshoeing School, Inc.
Chairman, AFA Education Committee
Vice Chair, American Farriers Education Counsel (AFEC)