Beyond Assessment Centers

By Frank, Fredric D.; Bracken, David W. et al. | Training & Development Journal, March 1988 | Go to article overview

Beyond Assessment Centers


Frank, Fredric D., Bracken, David W., Struth, Michael R., Training & Development Journal


Beyond Assessment Centers

Assessment centers are alive and well in American industry, having withstood the scrutiny of practitioners and researchers alike for more than 30 years. The validity and, in turn, the utility of this employee selection and development method have been established across many industries and a multitude of positions. The concept has evolved over time, and its continuing metamorphosis is a source of additional, less expensive practices that maintain the high reliability of assessment centers.

Since the Management Progress study initiated in the Bell system in the 1950s, research has shown that assessment centers do predict job performance. In a 1984 study Schmitt, Gooding, Noe, and Kirsch compared various personnel selection methods, such as aptitude, personality, and intelligence tests; biographical inventories; work samples; assessment centers; physical ability; and supervisor or peer evaluation. They also conducted a meta analysis, which pools data from individual studies to form one database with a very large sample. The result of their efforts showed that assessment centers typically are excellent predictors of job performance and have high criterion validity when compared to other methods of evaluation.

Why do they work?

The strong track record of assessment centers is best understood by examining the characteristics of the prototypical center.

* Based on job analysis. A good job analysis is the sine qua non of good test development. Since assessment centers use simulated work situations, a thorough job analysis allows for the inclusion of major activities, responsibilities, and tasks associated with the position.

* Use of multiple standardized work simulations. As with work samples, assessment centers require participants actually to perform the work involved. Assessment centers differ from the typical work sample by requiring a comprehensive approach to a situation, versus a less ambiguous work sample. For example, the typical typing test may have materials that are representative of those encountered on the job, but it does not attempt to recreate other situational demands such as noise, distractions, or interruptions.

Standardization implies that each participant experiences the same situational demands and has the same opportunity to exhibit skills. Critics of assessment centers point to the difficulty of standardization when simulations allow for a seemingly infinite number of behaviors from the participant. Giving all participants the same background materials, which describe the simulation situation, promotes standardization. In addition, role players who understand the rationale for the exercise are more likely to bring about opportunities for the participant to demonstrate the skills the exercise is designed to draw out.

Simulations have multiple benefits. The legal and psychological communities accept many assessment centers' content validity as a means to defend their use in making personnel decisions. Content-valid tests are shown to be valid, or job-related, through the similarity of test content and job demands. Simulations are also "face valid," a type of validity not recognized by lawyers, but an important consideration just the same. Face validity looks at the test from the participant's viewpoint. The participant's attitude toward the test and subsequent performance often depend on the extent to which he or she feels that the test is a good measure of his or her potential job performance. In addition, the simulation is a good preview of the job; applicants can self-select themselves out of consideration when they see what the position requires.

* Multiple trained assessors. Part of standardizing a test requires that the scoring process be reliable. The role of the observer, or assessor, is central in this respect since it is the assessor who determines the score on each skill. …

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