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Establishing an Effective Employee Testing Program

 

There are many elements to establishing a testing program.  This section outlines some of the more important elements.  While establishing a program according to legal and professional standards does not guarantee that there will not be a legal charge or that an employer will be able to successfully defend the testing program, following legal and professional guidelines increases the probability of a successful defense.   Many of these steps may require the services of a professional with training in test development and evaluation in employment settings.   

1.   Identify jobs where testing might be helpful. The use of testing should be dependent on a careful analysis of the costs and benefits.  Testing is often beneficial when there are high volumes of individuals to make decisions about, when there is high turnover, or when the consequences of making a poor decision are potentially very negative.   

Managers should take time to carefully consider what the problem is before concluding testing is the solution. One of the biggest errors managers make is assuming their problem is a decision-making one, when, in fact, the problem is caused by poor training, poor supervision, or poor compensation. Once the manager defines the problem, he/she, with the help of a professional, can determine if a test will help or not.  

Another consideration is assessing the size of the problem.  If an organization makes decisions about only a few people a year, testing may not be cost effective, depending on the costs of poor performance, turnover and other negative decision outcomes for those few instances.  

As noted earlier, testing can be helpful for improving employee performance, decreasing turnover, and decreasing costs associated with negative employee behaviors (e.g., theft, sabotage); a careful analysis will indicate whether testing is the right solution for a given situation. 

2.   Define job and organizational requirements clearly, completely, and accurately.  A common mistake employers make when hiring or promoting a job candidate is paying insufficient attention to what the requirements really are. Employers should gather systematic information on what are the knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics required for a given position (or entrance to a training program), and which are the most important to success.  Not all key requirements will be easy to measure or should all be measured via testing; however, employers should ensure that any requirements that are assessed are important ones.  In addition to job requirements, employers may go even further to define requirements as related to the organizations values and purpose. 

3.   Determine whether testing is useful for evaluating requirements.  Review the key job requirements and determine the best means of assessing these.  This determination will be based on whether a requirement can easily be evaluated by a test, whether a test exists or must be developed for a requirement, whether a cost effective means of evaluation is available, whether available tests have demonstrated effectiveness, and other factors (see section on Information to Obtain When Creating or Purchasing a Test). This is where professional help can be of great value since I-O psychologists know the pros and cons of different kinds of tests or different purposes. 

4.   Select or develop a test (for more information about this topic, see the article entitled, Information to Obtain When Creating or Purchasing an Employment Test).  Obtain the names of test publishers and products from professional colleagues or employee testing professionals.  Before purchasing a test, ask for information regarding the reliability and validity of the test.  Reliability refers to the consistency of test results.  Validity refers to whether the inferences made on the basis of a test score are correct.  Also, ask for information on the development of the test and for information about the comparability of test results for different demographic groups.  Evaluating the quality of this information is often difficultwhile knowledgeable and experienced test publishers provide thorough and accurate information, others may attempt to pass off weak or inappropriate research and analyses as evidence of reliability and validity.  Once again, competent professional evaluations of testing information can be helpful.  

Rather than purchasing a test, employers may choose to develop their own test.  This would be a good approach when an off-the-shelf product might not meet needs in the same way a customized tool would (e.g., using organization specific and job specific language in the test, assessing a requirement for which tests are not currently available, integrating with an existing testing system).  Once again, the involvement of a professional industrial-organizational psychologist would be important to good test development. 

5.   Implement the test.  Make sure that the people who administer, score, and evaluate test results are appropriately trained.  Depending on the type of test, such training might include issues related to standardizing administration conditions, scoring protocols, detecting cheating, what a score means, how to use test scores in decision-making, how to avoid rater biases, and many other things.  Accurate record keeping of test scores and decisions made about individuals is typically a legal requirement, and is a necessity if one wishes to evaluate the effectiveness of the testing program. 

Testing procedures should be consistent for all individuals for which the test is being used.  Policies should be developed and articulated regarding issues such as proper administration conditions, retesting intervals, eligibility for testing, access to test scores, and other implementation issues. 

Because tests may be the basis for decisions about individuals or may only be one piece of information used in making employment decisions, careful thought should go into how test results are used.  For example, test scores might be used in a pass/fail manner or combined with other information.   Test results might be used to set up score ranges indicating likelihood of individual success on the job.  Once again, professional consultation can ensure that test results are used in the most effective manner. 

6.  Evaluate the testing program.   When possible, employers should attempt to gather information to evaluate the effectiveness of the testing program.  This may be difficult to do with any accuracy if the test is used with only small numbers of individuals, the test is used in a highly restrictive manner (i.e., few individuals obtain a positive decision outcome after testing), or the outcome desired from testing is not easy to assess in a short time period.  Consult with a professional regarding what kinds of record keeping might enable conducting an effective evaluation of the test.

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