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English only for the BACB?

Updated: Jan 1, 2020

Many of us received the news today regarding the BACB moving towards English only exams as well as the United States & Canada only credentialing. (if you haven't seen it... check it out here:

I've noticed so far quite a lot of anger and mixed feelings on social media surrounding this issue. It can be easy to respond to the first stimulus we contact...and given our histories coupled with observing the responses of those around us, it can be even easier to have a more intense reaction.


I'd like to encourage everyone to take a moment to think about why the BACB decided to move in this direction.

In this past year, I was fortunate enough to meet international BCBAs and hear about how difficult becoming a BCBA is for them and for those in their countries (Brazil and Dubai were the two locations I've talked with). They both shared a perspective I never had access to before and I want to share it with all of you. (Those who are from Brazil and Dubai - please jump in on the comment section and elaborate, as you have the first-hand experience).

1. What Are We Testing For? Behavior Analytic Skills or Fluency in American Culture? Surprising as it may sound... translations of the situations written for the test do not hold up well. Many of them are specific to the culture of parenting within the United States which means international test takers are, in a way, being tested on American Culture at the same time as the principles of behavior analysis. Test takers may be excellent behavior analysts, but not experts in American culture and that can lead to a failing score. Addition 1/1/2020: What about the English only component? There is a lot of criticism related to the new decision to only offer exams in English. If the BACB holds tru to that, it would also mean testing for fluency in the English language on top of the principles of behavior analysis. The BACB did release the following statement:

The BACB may entertain conducting a needs analysis as soon as late 2020 for examinations in languages other than English in the U.S. and Canada depending on viability, demand, and advisability.”

It still isn’t clear what these needs analyses will look like - but I am hopeful the BACB will determine they need to offer the exam in at least Spanish and French given the high prevalence of both languages in the USA and Canada.


2. Behavior is Behavior Right? Shouldn't ABA Be Universal? While the principles apply to all behavior... we still individualize applications to the needs of our clients. Apply that same thinking to individual countries, which all have their own cultural histories and their own governing rules. The reason BCBAs are in such high demand in the United States is partially due to the hard-working groups who were able to get the name "BCBA" written into legislation to require funders to pay for services by that Certification! That same process would have to take place in all other countries and that is no easy task. Remember, part of the purpose of the BACB is to ensure the folks out there calling themselves "Behavior Analysts" are doing a good job representing the field. We want those folks to connect with the BACB - in the United States, the way we connect is through registering with the BACB (as an RBT, BCaBA, or BCBA). We have an incentive here to do so, it is hard to find a job without the certification from the BACB. In other countries, that is not true. That makes it harder to motivate international folks to register with the BACB. Add on the task of requiring a test not made for their culture, following guidelines that do not line up with their own laws... and now we've alienated them from the field entirely. That additional response effort may lead to a country being okay with allowing practicing behavior analysts who do not connect at all with the BACB. That would make it difficult for the BACB to monitor the quality of services globally, and we wouldn't want that.


3. Beyond The Test Our ethical guidelines state we must stay in contact with current research; everything we do should be evidence-based. How much research from the United States is translated for Behavior Analysts who speak another language? How much international research is translated for Behavior Analysts in the United States? Think about that for a moment... how much research are we, as a field, missing because of a language barrier? Procedures we could be applying because we missed out on a line of research? Work we could be replicating? Information we could be sharing? This language barrier is making it difficult for international groups to stay up-to-date with USA research and for those in the United States to stay up-to-date on international research. Other than global standards for research publications, what about global standards for translating BACB announcements, meeting individualized country requirements for certification standards, privacy standards, ethical standards? There are so many variables that go into global requirements - no wonder no other medical professional has one unifying standard world-wide!

The BACB standards for a BCBA were applied to all countries and once they came into contact with drastic standardization issues like the ones listed above and on their website... they likely realized they needed a new approach.


Further Thoughts after Discussions

A Simple Thought Experiment Because Behavior Analysis as a field is so new, it can be hard to put it into a bigger context. It helps me to do a quick thought experiment:

"What would this look like for another field/profession like medical doctors?"

Let's try it!

Other countries that are developed have governing boards and career paths for the medical profession. Countries that are not as developed may not have governing boards or career paths, so citizens have to travel to other countries to learn the profession. The governing boards then have international connections where they collaborate and help improve the application of the science world-wide.

This is how I see it working with Behavior Analysis - each country has its own governing board and all collaborate.

Here is another way to think about it... The board is a form of government so let's relate this situation to country governments. Trying to make the BACB a global governing board is like trying to establish a global government. While in an ideal world this sounds nice, in application it is near impossible given the huge cultural differences between each country. It is still difficult to get every country to agree that nuclear weapons are bad and should be banned. So what did we do as humanity? Each country has its own government, and we have the United Nations to bring us all together.

In Summary

I think the BACB is moving in the right direction. I am hoping that this decision does not delay any careers for international students or hinder any international dissemination efforts.

Behavior Analysis should be a world-wide field, just like other branches of science. As one of the newest branches, we still have some growing to do and it'll take a lot of time, energy, and resources to catch up to our older siblings. It may seem like this is a step backward... but we are moving forward!

I actually celebrate and encourage this decision! We are a young field and growing fast... we're international now and we are starting to realize there is more to global certification than meets the eye.

Even so... I think the BACB has a lot to answer for, and hopefully, they do so soon. This announcement is allowing for a lot of assumptions (including my own) and I hope they clear things up ASAP!

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Liz Krulder, BCBA
Liz Krulder, BCBA
Jan 06, 2020

This comment is in reply to Ashley van Dokkum: Thank you so much Ashley for your feedback. You’re absolutely right, I didn’t comment specifically on the English only portion (which is the title of the post!) 😅 I’ve since added a paragraph about it. You’re correct that it is a separate issue - it does overlap a bit with the international issue as it relates to translations. The BACB mentioned they will be conducting needs analyses to determine which languages to offer the test in. What does that mean? They have yet to announce. Translating the exams does take a lot of time and resources and has to be redone after each new edition comes out. It …


Ashley van Dokkum
Ashley van Dokkum
Dec 31, 2019

While I agree with what you were saying about not having it around the world, I understand. You mentioned language, but didn't talk about the test only being offered in English. You are still talking about international test takers. To me, only offering it in English is a separate issue. We have clinicians living here that don't speak English. To have diversity in the field to match the diversity of needs in this country, the test needs to be offered in a variety of languages. Just thinking about where I live in South Florida, we need Spanish speaking BCBAs. We need BCBAs that speak Patois, Creole, and French. By limiting the test to only English, you are placing an unnecessar…

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