Homepage Forums General Scouting Board of Reviews: No "Testing," No Point!

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    • #48686
      Randall Reed

      I don’t know if this is a recent development, but after a 15 year hiatus, I find the current incarnation of the BoR a puzzling development: I have been asked to participate in numerous BoRs this fall and, on reading ambiguous official BSA writings, I am told that the BoR is not an occasion to retest prior knowledge because that is done in the Scoutmaster’s Conference. As a 30 year instructional design veteran and an evaluation and testing professional, I have big problems with this logic. If we cannot sample required knowledge, particularly in the first 3 ranks, then what is the point of the BoR? The Scoutmaster is suppose to test the Scout’s content knowledge prior to the BoR. This is instructionally dubious, at best. Does the SM really have that kind of time? Further, the BoR is suppose to ask affective and attitudinal questions about how the Scout “feels” about things. Who knows the inner Scout better, the SM or the BoR? The SM, of course. I believe the SM should be asking the affective questions and gauging attitudes and motivations while the BoR inspects the uniform and addresses the “nuts and bolts” of the rank requirements. The way it is now, the BoR is a pointless exercise to instill confidence and purpose into the Scout, a task performed much better by patrol members and Scoutmasters. I believe it has evolved into a trivial exercise. What am I missing?

    • #48688
      Randall Reed

      BSA website (section is a complete wishy-washy mish-mosh. We are told that the BoR can fail to “promote” or approve the Scout. Yet, we are told, “The BSA discourages mock or practice boards of review. ‘Practice’ reviews may imply that board members will ask predetermined questions or that the board of review is anticipated to be other than a positive experience.” Come on folks! Is this fish, fowl, or neither? Clearly, if a candidate can be rejected, it is not something to be approached with light-hearted joy. (They admit the Scout could be “nervous.” Why?) Does this imply that Scouts should not be rejected? Then what is the point for a meaningful BoR?

      Further, we are told, “In a case where there is concern the Scout has not fulfilled the requirements for a rank as written, it is appropriate to advise the young man that he might not pass the board and to make suggestions about what he might do to improve his chances for success.”

      Give me a Break! If the BoR is not allowed to examine and “test” the Scout on rank-appropriate topics, why advise the Scout that he “might not pass” if the BoR is not allowed to test the requirements for rank as written? That is tautology to a fine point and BSA should know better than to write this kind of uninformed, pointless, boilerplate. Please, folks, bring in an experienced learning and testing expert to straighten out this mess and to explain the finer points of formal and informal evaluation methods.

    • #48727

      Welcome back to scouting! Thank you for your service. And, yes, in a boy-led troop an SM and the ASMs have plenty of to test and coach boys who may not have yet mastered a skill. We often give more than one conference per rank … The final one being when we think the boy has mastered skills and shown marked growth in scout spirit.

      The point of the BoR, is for the people who are to put the most effort in supporting the SM to hear directly from qualified scouts what they like about the troop, what they would like the troop to do next, and what challenges the boys are facing.

      If you are concerned about scouts not mastering skills, provide more program where those skills must be practiced. If you think you would be better suited to evaluating skills rather than reviewing tenure, then consider putting in an application for assistant scoutmaster or merit badge counselor.

    • #48736
      Randall Reed

      While I value your opinion, I can’t help but feel that if the BoR was to “test” the affective development of the Scout, then it should simply say that and the commentary and examples should support that concept.

      While I agree that the BoR is an opportunity to “hear directly from qualified scouts what they like about the troop, what they would like the troop to do next, and what challenges the boys are facing,” unfortunately, the language used Regulations and do not support intent when taken in their entirety. If your observation were correct, rank advancement assessment is a very curious occasion for such a wildly off-topic activity, even for the BSA.

      Why should these regs be so obtuse? If ambiguity is really the hidden intent, why don’t they simply say so?

      As a veteran testing and evaluation professional, I am experienced with task analysis and the creation of measurable learning objectives. It is not difficult to create test items to confirm mastery of learning objectives (read: “Rank Requirements”). But, I am beginning to think that these regs are purposely ambiguous because BSA does not want to get into the business of creating and maintaining a “Guide to Conducting Boards of Review.” I humbly submit, however, that benign neglect is not a responsible solution to this conundrum.

      What IS the point of the BoR? Perhaps it is entirely dispensable, else why this persistent lack of clarity?

    • #48737

      From the troop committee handbook:
      The review has three purposes:
      To make sure the work has been learned and completed.
      To see how good an experience the Scout is having in his unit.
      To encourage the Scout to advance to the next rank.

      None of my BORs as scout decades ago involved retesting. At every level there was no doubt that I had mastered scout skills at each rank. (Skills that members of the board may have never learned.) The trustworthiness of my PL, SPL, and SM were beyond question. If the SM said one of his scouts learned and completed a rank, the committee was sure that was the case … Purpose #1 fulfilled.

      The real work of the committee in holding boards of review is purpose #2 and #3.

      • #48741

        One more thought …

        In the scouting skills framework, retesting by a board in a typical setting (e.g. a parlor or classroom) would provide an inadequate and biased sample of a scout’s competencies. E.g., firerebuilding materials are few (maybe pencils and a wood chair?), ingredients for a meal are lacking (unless you’re in a kitchen or pantry), the place has been swept of poisonous plants or venomous beasts, the topographic variation is minimal, skylights are few and nearby metal frames distort compasses, and 25 yards of head-deep water is nowhere (maybe the baptistry?) and certified guards among the board are rare!

    • #48744
      Randall Reed

      Q: The Troop Committee Handbook is merely parroting the language of the regs I previously cited. For your edification: “Sampling” is a perfectly valid method of assessment. No one ever implied any examination had to be exhaustive. Can you name me a test that is? And your examples are nonsensical and farcical, hardly worthy of adult discussion.

      Further, your assertion that testing in a secondary environment is somehow flawed or biased is just plain silly. 90% of all testing is indirect measurement of knowledge, skills, and aptitudes that cannot easily be observed directly. It does not take a genius to craft deductive questions that provide strong indicators of mastery. A question like “What would you use for tinder after a hard rain?” provides quite a bit of information as to what the Scout knows or does not know and what he can do and can’t do regarding fire building.

      As is so often the case with loophole lawyering, you are offering your own interpretation by assuming that only the last two of the three stated purposes is in play. Who gave you permission to ignore #1?

      And if the sign-off of the SM was sacrosanct, why the whole creation of the BoR? Perhaps your troop lives in a perfect world, but for the rest of us, not so much. A wise founder might have suggested the BoR as a second check on mastery, don’t you think? Whatever the history, I think this is one of the least focused functions in Scouting and desperately needs either revision/clarification or outright elimination.

      Currently, there is no uniformity in execution, there is only marginal adherence to the regs, and there is no clear concept of purpose.

    • #48745

      Apologizing in advance for so many posts, but this helpful reference came to mind:

      Longtime Scouter left behind template for running Eagle Scout boards of review

      Although it is about Eagle boards, I think the attitude and techniques apply to earlier ranks (and venturing and sea scouts) as well.

      One of the things that people outside of the troop always would tell me about our seasoned scouts was how they would hold conversations as equals with adults. Even if they weren’t academically inclined, they were articulate and great to work with. I credit that to the committee members who would meet with them every whip-stich and just talk about life: what they’ve done, what they’d like to do, and what might help them along their way. This translates into practical things like correcting troop priorities, adults signing up to counslel certain merit badges, creating new service opportunities, boys finding jobs or education.

      I don’t want to undervalue the importance of testing and evaluation. We are constantly coaching our patrol leaders to improve in his area. (In the name of all that is good about western civilization, if anyone has professional techniques that can help our boys excel beyond the EDGE method, please pass on your skills to your older scouts.) I just want to be clear that the best venue for it is not the board of review.

    • #48767

      The real purpose of the lower ranks BORs is not to test the scout. It’s to assess the program. It gives the Committee members and parents a chance to figure out how the troop is running. When I was a committee member (and participated in a lot of BORs) I learned a lot about the troop, and it’s strengths and weaknesses. We were good about camping every month (except December), but we failed at providing the boys with adventure, partly because our SM at the time was a one man show. When our next SM came in, I used what I learned to guide him as his ASM towards higher adventure for the troop. We have succeeded. Since the new admin, we have gone on several kayaking trips, a caving trip, several backpacking trips, and a few snorkeling trips. Our troop is growing in response.

    • #48773
      Commissioner Ben

      It’s pointless to try and convince him of anything. Randall’s either an amusing troll or wants the BSA to completely revamp our Board of Review system in exchange for something conjured up in an Oxford lab.

    • #48776
      Randall Reed

      Ben: Just because you don’t understand something, please do not belittle it. “Oxford lab” indeed. Now you are sounding like an anti-intellectual or anti-learning grognard. If you do not understand what I am talking about in regards to testing and evaluation, that is perfectly OK. I have had 30 years to get well versed in the subject. Certainly, I hope that I did not insinuate that a master’s degree was necessary to understand my concerns about the structure, purpose, and goal of the BoR. My obligation was to explain it more clearly. I probably did not do a good enough job in that department. My apologies.

      But, do I think that the rules and regs concerning BoR should be revamped? You bet. Why? Because they fly in the face of good learning and evaluation principles which have been well-proven since the 1960s. And the extant language is disjointed and ambiguous.

      Maybe we should simply take a more comparative view of the rules and regs that apply to BoR. In that respect, do you think that the explicit guidance in the Guide to Advancement pub in most matters of advancement have not be nearly so well defined in those parts pertaining to BoR. I, personally, find them absolutely contradictory and non-directive.

      We can do better in creating a balanced, nuanced, approach to the BoR. Personally, I think it is a very important check-and-balance within the troop to offset possible biases of the Scoutmaster. It is also an effective way to emphasize that advancement requires personal accountability and accomplishment on the part of each Scout. Advancement should not be a rubber stamp.

      If you feel personally wounded by our exchanges, I am sorry. That detracts from a productive discussion of what can be made better in Scouting. Things might have been more civil had you been able to more accurately paraphrase and summarize what points I was making in my original posts, instead of interpreting them solely within your own frame of reference. Water over the bridge.

    • #48777
      Randall Reed

      perdidochas: This is a discussion about the rules and regs explicit in BSA National publications. I am not familiar with the regulation you cite as “The real purpose of the lower ranks BORs is not to test the scout. It’s to assess the program.” Where did you get THAT? Nothing in rules to supports your assertion. Frankly, you are simply stating your opinion unsupported by what is in the regs. I find your belief that the
      BoR is to test the troop to be, frankly, quite a stretch. And not supported at all by the regs. If you can point to a rule or reg that supports that contention, I will will stand corrected.

      • #48801

        If you want a dynamic troop, the BOR will be an assessment of the Troop. I learned it in some training, although I don’t remember which one–I’m a trained Committee member and trained Assistant Scoutmaster. It may have just been a word of advice from a former SM.

        It is in the regs: How Boards Can Lead to Program Improvement

        Periodic reviews of members’ progress can provide a measure of unit effectiveness. A unit might uncover ways to increase the educational value of its outings, or how to strengthen administration of national advancement procedures. For example, if it is discovered troop leaders are not ensuring that all requirements have been met before Scouts present themselves for the board of review, then process improvements can be recommended. A board can also help by considering the style of leadership best suited to current circumstances and ways to adjust it to different needs. Note that boards of review may also be held for Scouts who are not advancing. Much can be learned from them, as well.


      • #48802

        Why did you stop at 8.01.11? Is it because you knew 8.01.13 supported my view? A Scout is honest.

    • #48781
      Commissioner Ben

      I wasn’t “wounded,” just found it amusing you speak so formally. Nobody I know or knew in college ever talked like that. It was like I was living in a New Yorker cartoon. Granted, while I’m just so dumb hick who doesn’t have the capacity for abstract thought, or a Ph.D in testing and examination, I don’t think the current Board of Review serves as a rubber stamp for advancement. To require or even allow the Board to make a scout do one or more requirements again opens up the possibility for issues and abuse. The scouts are already completing the requirements once. If you allow Boards to let them retest scouts on any given requirements, imagine the open-ended problems that could develop. One parent might say the Board required their son to be retested on *insert said requirements* while on the same night, another scout with the same Board members didn’t have to retest anything. How is that a fair process? The current regs already address this by requiring the same standards for all scouts. Allowing Boards to retest whoever and whatever they want is less wise than not. On paper, your revised regs read great. Let’s retest scouts to examine their mastery. But in the real world, people aren’t perfect and will take advantage and abuse that system. If there’s a Board member who doesn’t like or is fearful of a scout’s parents, that creates an imperfect system. It can be said, Board members shouldn’t be influenced, but they could. I’ve seen politics play a role in decision making at the unit, district and council level. The best thing we can do is not allow it when possible. I still stand by my comment that the system isn’t broken. But what do I know, I’m just some dumb hick.

    • #48784
      Randall Reed

      I apologize for using big words you do not understand. I will try to lower my reading level for your sake. I believe that I have been fairly consistent in my assertion that the wording of the regs is flawed. I personally believe from personal and professional experience, that some sort of macro assessment (sampling) could be fair and fruitful. Otherwise, with the current wording and the lack of ability to ask discriminating questions, it is beyond my ken as to what clear and distinctive function the BoR serves in ensuring the integrity of advancement. If it disappeared tomorrow, in what specific ways would the advancement process suffer?

    • #48823
      Randall Reed

      P: I stand corrected. Thank you for further explanation.

    • #48940

      Thanks everyone for throwing in a lot more data and sources to this discussion.
      Macro assessment and sampling of scout skills is important, but it is more accurately the purview of the Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader as they challenge boys in the method of Outdoor Program. For example, a scout may cram to re-learn the timber hitch for a rank sign-off, but that’s no indication of how quickly he’ll use it when the time comes to haul timber!
      But, routinely put scouts in situations where a timber hitch needs to be tied (e.g. To anchor a ridge line around a large tree) and the real test begins! So, when your SPL comes up for his next rank review, you might ask “Do your boys tie a lot of timber hitches? Are they good at it? What should we get for you to make sure they do them well? Can you think of a service project where tying knots like that might come in handy?”

      In the boards of review, we really want to help scouts be reflective by building that sense of adult association.

    • #49111

      The point of a Board of Review is not to re-test and then pass/fail a Scout for requirements he already has signed off.

      The point of a Board of Review is for the committee to get a quality assurance spot-check of the program being offered; and gives them a chance to check in with the Scouts as they move through the program.

      You certainly can review what the Scout has done up to this point (heck, it’s in the name Board of REVIEW). You can ask what campouts he went on, what service projects he helped with, what meals he help cooked for the various requirements, etc. You can ask questions about the skills he learned (What did you learn from your menu planning experience? What would you do differently if you were going to do that 5-mile hike again? Have you had to use any of the first aid skills you learned? What knot do you think is the most useful?) But it’s not a time to re-test a Scout and question the signatures in his book. And there’s no benefit from putting him on the spot and making his sweat it out with an overly specific or “gotcha” question to make him prove what he’s done.

      If a Scout is at his Board of Review for First Class and is unable to tie a bowline, it is not the time nor the place to take out the white-out and remove the signature from First Class requirement 8a and require that he go remaster the skill that he’s already been signed off on and then come back some other time before you pass him.

      If a Scout is unable to tie a bowline, it may be worth looking at how the troop teaches knots. But it’s not appropriate to void the signature on a Scout’s requirement and fail him.

      The board can use the Board of Review to find out what the Scouts like and don’t like about the program; what is going well and what isn’t. They can be really insightful in helping guide the Scout as he moves forward and in guiding the troop as well. It’s a time for the board to learn from the Scout, not for the Scout to put on a big show and prove himself to the Board. We don’t need to make the Scouts jump through all the hoops again at some big “final exam” for each rank – that’s not how the advancement program works.

    • #49691

      This is a test.

    • #50009

      Assuming that Randal ONLY wants to run a good unit, I thank him for his interest & enthusiasm driving this discussion.

      That being said… IMO he’s doing everything ELSE “wrong”. Neither the Scoutmaster Conference or the Board of Review is a “retesting time” for the basic scout skills. When they are tasked with “making sure” skills are done, they are checking the Requirements pages are being signed off, the dates and signatures match, and the TIME between advancement. (NOTE: These are the same Requirements pages that need to be copied and sent along with their Eagle Applications and Advancement Records to “prove” to National that the scout “learned” and completed all the requirements at the right times & order.)

      “Testing” is what happened BEFORE the handbook got signed.
      “Testing” is what happened BEFORE the MB Blue Card got signed.

      The “testing” that happens at the SMC or the BOR is a time to TEST THE PROGRAM, the LEADERS, and the SPIRIT, not the minutia of the “hard scout skills”. ANYONE making boys “tie knots” or “first aid bandages” at a SMC or BOR needs a pie in the face!

      These review times test the TEACHING METHODS… test the SUPPORT that the boys have from adult leaders… test the TEAMWORK happening in their patrols…. test the ENJOYMENT of the monthly events… and test the ENTHUSIASM to keep moving forward in the Scouting Program… test the QUALITY of the SM and his assistants… test the SELECTION of camp sites & activities… It’s all the “other stuff” the Committee is responsible for. The Committee does not run the direct interaction with the boys, that’s the job of the SM and the ASMs. Through the BOR, the Committee confirms they’ve “hired the right guy” to run the program.

      Remember, we teach Character as much as we teach “Scout skills”. We need to have a holistic view of the PROGRAM and not just the “stuff” on the Rank Advancement pages in the book.

      • #202743

        Paul – This is by far the single best response I’ve ever read!

        You are absolutely correct, there are a lot of Scouters who don’t take the “holistic” approach to Scouting and therefore they don’t properly understand WHAT their jobs are supposed to be, or HOW their jobs are supposed to be done. Take this Randall guy for example who is ready to run every Scout through a gauntlet of tests, knots, bandages, situps, pushups and who knows what else for the rank advancements that require Merit Badge completion. Oh brother!!!

        Paul you’re 100% on target! If a Scout doesn’t KNOW the skill, then the SM shouldn’t sign the book or the MBC sign the blue card. Once signed, the Scout moves upwards into a completely different level of intellectual discussion & Program content; not the “hard skills” as Paul calls it, but the finer nuances of the “program” itself and the way the Troop functions as a whole.

    • #201226

      What to do when the Scout sitting for his Tenderfoot Rank can not even tell the BOR what the Scout Law means to him or how he should live it. Yes he can recite it but it has no meaning to him.

      • #202750

        This is a warning sigh that you have a SM who doesn’t embrace the character development aspects of Scouting.

        If a boy can’t articulate an intelligent response to something as basic as the Scout Law, it’s NOT time for him to advance. Not only should your Committee (BOR) have a talk with the Scout and explain to him the far reaching concerns are of missing the most basic aspect to Scouting’s “spiritual” mission of building boys into men, but it’s also time to bring the SM and ASMs into a room and share your concerns that they may be too quick to sign off on requirements, and what I think is of greater concern, “glossing over” the CHARACTER aspects of the Scouting program itself.

        As I have said to my boys many times, you can fish, bike, camp, and hike ANYWHERE in blue jeans and a tee shirt, but to wear a Scout uniform means you’re a part of something “special”.

        Don’t ever let Scoutmasters water-down the “something special” aspect of Scouting! There’s too much of that happening at “head quarters” already, don’t accept it at the Unit level.

    • #203698

      Q mentioned the handbook stance on BoR’s. What seems to be up for debate is an interpretation of the first point, which is to “make sure the work as been learned and completed.” This statement is ambiguous in that it either gives the BoR room to retest the scout OR it means for the BoR to accept the signed off sections as fact and that the SM or ASM did their due diligence before signing. I don’t know which approach is right, but I do know that I’ve had scouts come to BoR’s that were unprepared to recite the scout oath, scout law, or even talk about intelligently about their advancements. When that happened, you bet your sweet monkey we took the “make sure” step very seriously and sent them back to the SM and ASM without advancing them. I don’t see how BSA could possibly expect a BoR to be a rubber stamp process.

      • #204655

        The BOR isn’t a rubber stamp, but it’s also not a retest. That is stated clearly as in all BSA publications, so there’s no ambiguity. If anything, a boy who can’t recite the Oath/Law requires more scrutiny for the SM and the ASM who are apparently signing the handbooks too readily.

        Part of a reason behind the Committee having a chance to interview the scouts for advancement is to also get a sense of the health of the program itself, including the SM and ASMs and they job they’re doing.

        Great questions to ask – Are boys learning? Are the trips/destinations fun & interesting? Is the SM patient and genuinely interested in you? Are you comfortable asking your SM / ASMs for help with skill instruction? Do you think the SM does too much and may be keeping the SPL and the Troop from being “boy led”?

        These not only answer questions you need to know about the Troop, but shifts the focus of the boy and onto others, which should help him relax and talk more easily. THEN you can turn the questions inward and ask about his individual accomplishments once you have him talking. Conducting the Board of Review Not a Retest or “Examination”

        Though one reason for a board of review is to help ensure the Scout did what was supposed to have been done to meet the requirements, it shall become neither a retest or “examination,” nor a challenge of the Scout’s knowledge. In most cases it should, instead, be a celebration of accomplishment. Remember, it is more about the journey. A badge recognizes what a Scout has done toward achieving the primary goal of personal growth. See “Personal Growth Is the Primary Goal,” It is thus more about the learning experience than it is about the specific skills learned. See also “Mechanics of Advancement in Scouts BSA,”

    • #206911

      Jason, I think the GTA gives the BoR latitude to ask the scout, “Can you do ___?”
      A scout is trustworthy.
      If he answers in the negative, they can decide to finish the board when he can.
      It sounds like that’s what your board did. I don’t consider that to be testing. The board should be looking for a scout who can reflect on what he learned, and if he can’t recite oath and law or describe what a point means in his daily life, you don’t have someone who’s been reflecting on these things the way we’d like.

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