Pan American Aerobiology Certification Board
Frequently Asked Questions
The certification program was initiated
by the Spore Counter Certification Committee of the Pan-American Aerobiology Association.
The PAAA is a professional scientific organization whose members’ interests are
centered on the source, dispersal, transport, deposition and impact of airborne
biological material. The collective expertise of the PAAA in the understanding
of the mechanisms, processes and identity of bioaerosols is unparalleled in
Participation in the certification programs of the PAACB is strictly voluntary. Certification is not required by any organization, group or body although some accept this certification as evidence of proficiency for their licensing programs. The program is widely recognized in various industries, and individuals that complete our programs are recognized as having achieved a standard level of competency. Dozens of commercial laboratories, agencies, or groups have individuals that have participated in our programs.
There are many differences between the AIHA program and the PAACB programs. First and foremost, the PAACB program is for individuals, not laboratories. The PAACB believes that it is important to certify the individuals who perform the identifications and sample analysis as this is the best way to ensure the quality of the analysis. The PAACB program specifically evaluates the ability of individuals to correctly identify spores and pollen as would be encountered on samples for direct microscopic examination. This is not a web-based program; hence our evaluation process ensures that the person who doing the identifying is the one that receives the certification.
Registration is open to all who believe themselves qualified. It is, however, strongly recommended that individuals have experience in performing sample analysis before attempting certification. We recommend 6 months full-time experience or 1 year of part-time experience. We have provided guidance documents on this website to aid in preparing for the certification process.
The guidance documents outline the type of information that is expected to be known by individuals who complete all levels of the certification process. In addition, for many topics we list a number of references that can be consulted to gain more information. The list of references are not exhaustive but are meant as resource for individuals requiring help in locating specific information. There may be other sources that may also be useful. Questions on qualifying and certification examinations will be taken from topic areas covered in the guidance documents. Please consult the summary for information on topics covered by the Spore Analyst Level 1 exams.
The certification process requires a number of steps
Since some members of the board, advisory committee and the scientific committee are also involved with commercial laboratories, the issue of fairness is important and critical to the success of the program. The following steps have been instituted to assure a transparent, non-biased, and fair process:
A. All examinations will be assessed for fairness, accuracy of information, and clarity by mycologists and palynologists who are professionals in the field. Examinations are “beta-tested” to ensure that questions are clear and unambiguous and that passing cut off grades are set appropriately. As much as possible, tests have been prepared so that they can be objectively graded.
B. Persons correcting the qualifying examinations will be blinded as to the identity of the test takers. Each applicant will be assigned a code which will be the only identifying label on each page of the exam. The key to the codes will be carefully guarded and under the care of the PAACB administrator. The administrator has been hired to handle the day-to-day operations of the certification program to ensure an unbiased process.
C. The certification exam will be proctored. This ensures that individuals have equal access to testing and that the identity of test takers is assured (which would be impossible with a web-based exam). The certification exam consists of a large number of images to be identified plus some calculations and conceptual questions. The bank of images comes from a wide range of sources. Each one will be verified by a set of 3 reference mycologists or palynologists to assure the clarity of the image and the identification.
D. The entire program, as well as any individual complaints lodged by applicants will be subject to review by a large and competent ‘Advisory and Oversight Board’. The job of this board will be the following:
1) Help maintain objectivity
2) Review changes in organizational structure
3) Assure that certification standards are clear, unambiguous, reasonable, fair, and objectively grounded.
4) Assure compliance with by-laws.
5) Oversee scientific committees.
The $850 fee covers all fees required for the certification process which is valid for a period of three years. This fee is needed in order to cover the costs of independent administrative management and proctored testing to ensure a secure, unbiased testing process. The income from these fees are used only to cover expenses related to administering the certification tests since all PAACB board, advisory and scientific committee members serve on a volunteer basis. The fee is split into two payments so that individuals only pay for tests they are eligible to take.
There are no discounts for multiple analysts since the certification program is for individuals, not laboratories. We will be communicating and accepting payments from individuals, only. Some commercial laboratories may decide to fund certification for their analysts, but all such arrangements will be between those analysts and their employers. It is deemed very important that a wall of separation remain between laboratories and the certification process (PAACB). We also feel that this is fairer to the individuals who are not connected to a large laboratory.
The taxonomic level of identification required on certification examinations is the same as that possible when identifying pollen and spores from ‘spore-trap’ samples. There are few types that can be identified confidently to species. Based on spore morphology alone, most can only be differentiated to the genus level. In some cases broader taxonomic groups (family or groups of families) are the lowest possible level of identification. The level of identification expected will be clearly specified in each question.
Spore types presented are generally representative of the broader geographic context. However, where possible we acknowledge the different perspectives of individuals from different geographic areas and allow individuals to relate responses to their own area.
The certification program is set-up to assess competency at multiple levels. Level 1 assesses basic background knowledge, ability to identify common pollen or spore types, and knowledge of routine analysis protocols. This is level would be applicable to a knowledgeable entry level analyst.
Certification exams will be arranged with a local proctor. There are specific instructions on who would qualify to be a proctor and tips on how to locate one. Each proctor must be approved before testing materials are sent out.
Proctor arrangements can also be made in
Yes. Our current plan is to re-certify after 3 years. Once our boards and committees are meeting regularly we will establish a formal plan for proficiency and/ re-certification. Check the website for updates.
We are very interested in maintaining a representative board that reflects the constituents with vested interests in pollen and spore certification testing. Our website will list the current roster of board and committee members and their affiliations. We invite participation from all sectors and ask that you make your interests, expertise and willingness known to us. Please fill in the information sheet and contact the PAACB administrator.
We suggest one set aside from 8 to 12 hours. Some with extensive experience will be able to complete the exam in less than 4 hours. For those with less experience who use the qualifying exam as a learning tool and need to look up many things, it might take longer than 12 hours.
Questions on the Qualifying Exam include fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, T/F, and drawings (by the candidate).
Some images on the Certification Exam have micrometer lines, others do not. Frequently there are other particles in the image that give clues about size.
Images of both fungal spores and other particles that could potentially be confused with fungal spores are included on the Certification Exam.
We take into account the morphological variability within a taxon and between taxa (based on input from a number of expert mycologists), as well as categories that are generally accepted by commercial labs, when deciding which taxon or categories to accept. Our questions are clear as to whether we are asking for a genus name (e.g., Ganoderma), other taxonomic category (e.g., basidiospore), or some other morphological category (smut/Periconia).
We do not provide specific information on questions incorrectly answered on the Qualifying Exam, nor do we return the exams. We know of no other certifying agency that returns such exams. For those that do not pass the exam (or who just barely pass), we provide general comments indicating areas where additional education would be helpful.
Questions dealing with protocols are, for the most part, general; addressing the reasons for analyzing a sample in a certain way, calculating concentrations (with the needed parameters provided), etc. Acceptable responses are based on consensus of the PAACB Scientific Committee in addition to mycological expert consultants.
Analysts from over 20 different groups/laboratories are currently certified; the Texas Mold Assessment and Remediation Rules (TMARR) (Texas Administrative Code §§295.301-295.338) (aka, House Bill 329) recognizes the PAACB certification program for their licensing of Mold Analysis Laboratories (RULE §295.317); both of these facts are a sign of acceptance by the industry.
For the Spore Analyst I level, we require the fundamental basic level of knowledge to pass our exams. This core set of requirements was established by a working group of professionals in the industry and these, while not particularly difficult, do require a basic understanding of spore morphology, mycology, and sampling theory. The knowledge required to be a competent analyst is not typically taught in formal degree programs, therefore we designed the qualifying exam as a learning experience and made it open book, while at the same time allowing us to evaluate the candidate’s likelihood of success on the Certification Exam. There is a strong correlation between the grade on the Qualifying Exam and success on the Certification Exam. Therefore, those that take the time and opportunity to do well on the Qualifying also typically do well on the Certification Exam. The guidance documents are the key to locating the necessary resources to acquire this knowledge.
26. How much will the PAACB pay to proctors?
Normally proctors charge between $30 and $60, some will do it for free during their regular working hours. If the proctor you contact requires more, please contact the administrators to make arrangement. Obviously, not paying high amounts to proctors will enable the PAACB to keep fees low. On the other hand, we see the proctors as important part of this process and want to compensate them fairly.
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