From your experience, you know this is unacceptable, but where do you start? How can you create a decent test? How many questions should be on the tests? What point values should each question be worth? How frequently should tests be administered?
If you are a member of APCO or NENA, or belong to any social media sites that have dispatcher boards, take advantage of the networking and put out the word that you're looking for tests. Don't re-invent the wheel.
Another source of test material is your agency's in-house law enforcement, fire-fighting, or emergency medical preceptor manuals. Field training officers give quizzes and tests to trainees through-out the training; many of the questions can be modified to fit dispatches' needs.
To create a test, I used a couple of documents: the dispatcher skills sheets and the Dispatcher Training Manual. The skills sheets are broken down in to very detailed sections. I reviewed each section and picked out random items I then turned the skills or knowledge to questions. Nevada Department of Wildlife receives many calls on abandoned or injured wildlife. Many of these calls are referred to licensed rehabilitators. Certain parts of the State tend to call us with more calls than other areas. Knowing which rehabilitators accept which type of animals without looking up the information helps to speed up the conversation, a bonus on a busy weekend or when a dispatcher is working alone. A sample of such a test question is below.
5. Wildlife rehabilitator, Jane Doe, is licensed to rehabilitate (multiple choice):
c) Birds & Mammals
d) Aquatic species
All dispatchers need to acquire a slew of knowledge including geography, codes, computer data systems, policies & procedures, computer-aided dispatch(CAD), and other skills as per agency protocols. How does your department teach jurisdictional boundaries and beats and/or response districts? Our department covers the entire State of Nevada, and the 'beats' are broken down as 'Hunt Units'. Those men and women who fish and hunt know what hunt units are, but to anyone who doesn't take advantage of the outdoor recreational opportunities offered, learning the Nevada Department of Nevada's (NDOW)'s system is a lengthy task. Breaking the system down by regions is easier. We now issue new dispatchers a Hunt Unit map, have them 'color' in the units and mark the responsible wardens for each area. It helps reinforce who handles the areas. A test question for hunt units is given below.
8. What regions are the following hunt units in?
280 __________ 154 __________
035 __________ 231 __________
067 __________ 182 __________
286 __________ 081 __________
General knowledge questions can be made up of mixed questions. This includes CAD knowledge, radio codes, and policy & procedures. Depending on whether you put students through a classroom training before sending them to a trainer for on-on-one live sessions or the trainee is assigned to one dispatcher until he/she is cleared to be on their own, tests give you an idea if the trainee is retaining information. Even a one page fill-in the blank sheet on radio codes given once a week serves a need. The following is an example of a multiple fill-in the blank question. The trainee must come up with the answers, instead of picking one in a multiple-choice format. There is no 'best-guess'.
5. Fill in the blanks (10 points):
a) 2408 works in the _______________ region.
b) 10-41 means: __________________________________________________________________
c) Code Red means: __________________________________________________________________
d) Which CAD command is used to issue a case number to a call? _____
e) Montezuma Repeater is in which region? ___
f) When do you used Code 9: __________________________________________________________________
g) When do you use Code 10? __________________________________________________________________
h) What is the CAD command OSC used for: __________________________________________________________________
i) 10-23 means what? __________________________________________________________________
j) What does dispatch use NWDS database for? __________________________________________________________________
Once you have decided on how many questions, the next step is to determine how many points each question is worth. Don't try to make yourself crazy by making the total points worth an odd amount. Try to keep the total an even number. I aim for 50 or 100 points. What will the minimal passing score? I use 80% but one can use 70%. Will a failing grade have any consequences? This is a discussion you will need to have with the Dispatch Manager.
At the bottom of each test I fill in the total possible points. If each question has the same point value, I would include that information or omit this if different questions have various point values. The minimal needed to pass would be noted. I fill in the data on points earned, pass / fail, who gave the test and the date. Trainees are given the option of getting a copy of the test. The original goes in their training file.
Total possible points: XXX pts. (XX pts for each correct answer.)
Points needed for passing score: XXX points
Total points earned: __________________ Pass _________________ Fail _____________
Test administrator _____________________________ Date________________
Stay safe out there!