African-Americans' Test-Taking Attitudes and Their Effect on Cognitive Ability Test Performance: Implications for Public Personnel Management Selection Practice

By McKay, Patrick F.; Doverspike, Dennis | Public Personnel Management, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

African-Americans' Test-Taking Attitudes and Their Effect on Cognitive Ability Test Performance: Implications for Public Personnel Management Selection Practice


McKay, Patrick F., Doverspike, Dennis, Public Personnel Management


This review examined recent research literature which has reported that African-Americans' attitudes toward cognitive ability tests affect their subsequent test performance. In particular, the negative attitudes of African-Americans toward cognitive predictor measures have been shown in some cases to reduce their performance on such tests, even though these tests remain valid predictors of job performance. The implications of the above findings for personnel selection practice are discussed.

The use of tests in modern public personnel selection is premised upon the assumption that an applicant's performance on a predictor measure will be indicative of his or her performance on the job,[1] although in the public sector there is often a competitive aspect to the examination. In response, the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures emphasizes the concepts of test validity and job relevance.[2] A second assumption related to selection test usage is the belief that a test provides an accurate sampling of the knowledge, abilities, skills, or competencies possessed by the applicant.

In the selection literature, there has been a long history of arguments over the fundamental assumptions of job relevancy and accurate sampling in testing African-Americans. Nutshelling a vast body of literature, we find that adverse impact on cognitive ability tests remains a major area of concern, but the search for explanations for the depressed performance of African-American testtakers has largely proved to be unfruitful. Recently, several lines of inquiry have found that African-Americans' performances on tests may be negatively affected by attitudes toward testing, thereby suggesting that, by modifying these attitudes, we might increase African-American performance on traditional tests.[3]

In this paper, we will briefly discuss three relevant studies and their findings. We will then discuss some possible implications of the research findings for public personnel assessment and areas of future research. We should note that the findings from each of these studies require further replication, and that, in some cases, the strength of the findings may be questionable. However, the studies are consistent in suggesting that African-Americans' test-taking attitudes may have the effect of reducing their performances on tests labeled or seen as measures of cognitive ability. It should come as no surprise to those in the testing profession that African- Americans are often contemptuous of the testing enterprise, especially when one considers the social stigma attached to being viewed as intellectually inferior.[4] Further, in the public sector, one often finds a history of challenges and mistrust of testing programs by minority group members.

Arvey, Strickland, Drauden and Martin

The Arvey et al. study was a three-part investigation which sought to examine the motivational components of the test-taking process. In the first phase of the study, the authors developed and validated the Test Attitude Survey (TAS), an attitude instrument designed to measure the opinions of employment testtakers toward the tests they have completed. The TAS was administered to 494 Minnesota state employees. When their responses were subjected to factor analysis, nine factors were derived. The nine factors included motivation, lack of concentration, belief in tests, comparative anxiety, test ease, external attribution, general need for achievement, future effects (consequences of performance), and preparation (see Arvey et al. for greater explanation of the nature of each factor). Of primary interest to the present review, however, are the results reported for Study 2 of their series of studies.

In the second study of their investigation, Arvey and colleagues explored the degree of relationship between scores on the Test Attitude Survey and scores on three employment tests within a sample of 337 applicants for a county financial worker position. …

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