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Four Steps to Scout Advancement – A Scout is Tested

Third in a series of articles about the four steps to Scout Advancement.
(Click on the titles above to read the articles) 

… the standard of proficiency is purposely left undefined. Our standard for Badge earning is not the attainment of a certain level of quality of knowledge or skill, but the AMOUNT OF EFFORT THE BOY HAS PUT INTO ACQUIRE SUCH KNOWLEDGE OR SKILL.  If he is a trier, no matter how clumsy, his examiner can accord him his Badge, and this generally inspires the boy to go on trying till he wins further Badges and becomes normally capable.

Some are inclined to insist that their Scouts should be first-rate before they can get a Badge. That is very right, in theory; you get a few boys pretty proficient in this way- but our object is to get all the boys interested.  At the same time, we do not recommend the other extreme, namely, that of almost giving away the Badges on very slight knowledge of the subjects. It is a matter where examiners should use their sense and discretion, keeping the main aim in view.

Baden Powell – Aids to Scoutmastership

A Scout wanting to complete an advancement requirement must demonstrate to his leader that he has fully mastered a skill at the level expected. (He) might be tested by adult troop leaders or by their own patrol leaders, troop guides, or another junior leader, provided that the boy leader has already earned the rank the Scout is aiming for.

Completing a requirement is often more a checkoff process than a formal examination. It’s easy to tell when  a Scout has taken part in a required number of troop and patrol activities, when he has successfully spent  a night camping out in a tent he has pitched, and whether he can swim a certain distance.

Scoutmaster Handbook

Scouting skills—what a young person learns to do—are important, but not as important as the growth achieved through participating in a unit program. The concern is for total, well-rounded development…. We know we are on the right track when we see youth accepting responsibility,
demonstrating self-reliance, and caring for themselves and others; when they learn to weave Scouting ideals into their lives; and when we can see they will be positive contributors to our American society.

… As they do this, we must recognize each young person’s unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. As watchful leaders, either adult or youth, we lend assistance as called for and encourage members to help each other according to their abilities.

Guide to advancement 2011 – 2.0.0.3 Personal Growth Is Prime Consideration

What do our Scouts think of when they hear the word ‘test’? I see a piece of paper on my desk in school; something you pass or fail. It’s not likely you get a second chance, or  get credit for effort.

We test Scouting requirements differently. Scout’s don’t ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ in the academic sense. They get to keep trying until they complete the challenge.

A Scout is Tested Once
A Scout’s knowledge or skill will certainly be challenged many times in the natural course of  doing what  Scouts do  but he will only be tested  and passed once. When he has successfully completed the test it is certified by a signature and he will never be tested on that particular requirement again.

In many years of Scouting I have yet to have anyone collude with a Scout to certify something that he has clearly not accomplished. I have had my doubts that the requirement was understood or evaluated correctly but never that it was  bypassed in a lie.

In the rare instances where I find that someone has misunderstood a requirement I never penalize the Scout – the signature always stands. What I will do is speak to whoever signed the requirement and help them better understand the responsibility involved and encourage them to become a better examiner.

If we don’t trust a signature, we don’t trust the individual the atmosphere of mutual trust and respect we predicate all of Scouting on begins to crumble.

Two Types of Tests
The Scoutmaster Handbook quote above describes two basic types of tests:

1. Checkoff Process
The lion’s share of tests are a simple certification of what the Scout has done as a representation of what he is able to do (a Scout either did or did not attend a camping trip or swim a given number of yards).

2. Formal Examination
Those instances where  judgement is required to determine whether the Scout has completed the requirement or not.

Making Judgement Calls
There are some important concepts to apply to these judgement call requirements

The standard of proficiency is purposely left undefined.
When a test requires judgement, when it is not a simple polarity, there is no specific standard of proficiency. What we want to learn in evaluating these requirements is what the Scout knows and what he is able to do based on the effort he’s extended. The Scoutmaster Handbook says ‘he has fully mastered a skill at the level expected’ – that level is different for every Scout.

Whose Judgement?
It’s important to invite the Scout’s judgement into the question of evaluation. I ask them to read the requirement to me, to tell me what they understand about it, if they have met it and to explain how they make that determination.  Sometimes I’ll  ask questions that help them discover things they may not have understood. I do this to ‘keep the main aim in view’ – can this Scout exercise the kind of integrity to evaluate himself fairly? Is he weaving these concepts into his character, is Scouting enabling him to learn these important things in life?

Keeping the Main Aim in View
Baden Powell described two extreme attitudes;

1. ‘… almost giving away the badges on very slight knowledge of the subjects.’

2. ‘… insist that their Scouts should be first-rate before they can get a badge’

Between these two wrongs is the right way;

‘…examiners using their sense and discretion (their judgement), keeping the main aim in view.’

The main aim is put succinctly in the Guide to Advancement: “We know we are on the right track when we see youth accepting responsibility, demonstrating self-reliance, and caring for themselves and others; when they learn to weave Scouting ideals into their lives; and when we can see they will be positive contributors to our American society.”

Don’t “Guard the Gate” – Open It
We Scoutmasters do not own advancement. We don’t own the awards, we don’t add to or subtract from the requirements, it’s not our responsibility to protect the awards from the unworthy. If you go back over the history of Scouting adults getting frustrated with the quality of Scout skills comes up again and again. It’s nothing new.

Getting frustrated is a pretty good indication that we are missing the point, the ‘main aim’.

If a Scout can’t tie a square knot weeks or months after he was tested and approved as having attained that skill some adult volunteers see it as a deficiency in instruction, laxity of standards, and the impending end of any kind of integrity in the movement.

If our main aim was producing boys who could tie square knots on demand I’d be worried too. Thankfully it isn’t.

Obviously we want the best for all our Scouts, we want them to really learn things. In some measure their performance  is a reflection of our work so it’s possible that a tinge of selfishness clouds our judgement when we get defensive and try to protect advancement by ‘insisting that Scouts be first rate’.

These admirable motivations often lead to misdirection; we crack down on ‘slackers’, we tighten things up, we get pretty intense about making darn sure that we aren’t giving anything away. This  Gollum-like preoccupation with ‘the precious’ – a state of rigorous perfection diminishes the joy of Scouting  for us and for our Scouts. It’s frustrating.

Once we dedicate ourselves to ‘keeping the main aim in view’ we learn this dogged pursuit of perfection is having the opposite effect we hoped for.

Some of you appear to be standing guard at the gate.  Like good guards you are not letting anyone pass who does not have the correct password.  When someone appears at the gate who does not have the correct password, you send them away.  The treasure that you believe you are guarding is the SACRED ADVANCEMENT REQUIREMENTS.  You believe that you must guard the gate to make sure that no boy advances who has not only met the requirements but who has met the requirements 110%.  Your watch word is, “We’ve gotten soft on the Boy Scout advancement.”

The problem is that you have gotten you orders wrong.  You are guarding the wrong side of the gate.  The treasure is not behind the gate but in front of it.  The treasure is the character of the boys in our care.  Your duty is not to prevent boys from passing through but to make sure as many boys as possible do pass through.

F. Darnall Daley Jr.  - advancement chair for Area 6 of the Northeast Region. See his book The Commissioner’s Corner