The Selection of Entry-Level Corrections Officers: Pennsylvania Research

By Sproule, Charles F.; Berkley, Stephen | Public Personnel Management, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

The Selection of Entry-Level Corrections Officers: Pennsylvania Research


Sproule, Charles F., Berkley, Stephen, Public Personnel Management


The article traces the 20-year evolution of procedures used to assess candidates for employment as entry-level corrections officers in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The results of three test validation studies and other research, including adverse-impact analyses and job analyses, are discussed. The validated assessment procedures include video-based written tests, multiple-choice tests of reading comprehension and the ability to follow instructions, writing exercises, structured oral tests, physical ability tests, and medical employment guidelines. Other aspects of the assessment process, such as psychological screening and background investigations are also addressed. Research findings indicate that the assessment procedures currently in use in Pennsylvania for entry-level corrections officers are supported by a variety of validity evidence, are fair by gender and race, and are cost effective.

Purpose and Organization of this Article

The focus of this article is on screening candidates for corrections officer trainee (COT), which is the entry-level corrections officer job in the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC). COT is the feeder class for all Pennsylvania state corrections officer jobs, since virtually all promotions are made from within.

This article is a case study of one public jurisdiction's research and development efforts on assessment procedures for entry-level corrections officers. It covers a period of about 20 years. The article summarizes Pennsylvania COT selection procedures and how the procedures evolved over the years. It describes three criterion-related validation studies and 10 years of adverse-impact analysis studies for COT. It describes the development, use and validation of video-based assessments. The article summarizes data on subgroup differences by race and gender on various tests and the results of test fairness analyses. A literature review on use of personality tests to predict violent behavior is summarized. A project to develop and validate physical ability tests and medical employment guidelines is described. Complete reports on the research summarized in this article are available on request. The available reports provide details on all of the information summarized in this article. The research is representative of the approach to applied research followed by the staff of the research division of the Pennsylvania State Civil Service Commission (SCSC).

This article is organized as follows: Background information is provided on the Pennsylvania personnel assessment research program and the Pennsylvania correctional system. The COT selection process from the 1970's to the present is described. Results of a 1984 test validation study are presented. Major changes to the examination program in 1992 are described. Examination data are reviewed, and the findings of a 1995 adverse-impact analysis are reported. Results of a 1996 test validation study are presented. Changes made to the examination program in 1997 are discussed. Results of the development and 1998 validation of physical ability tests and preparation of medical guidelines are summarized. The last section includes a summary, conclusions and future plans.

Pennsylvania Personnel Assessment Research Program

The State Civil Service Commission (SCSC) oversees the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's merit system. The purpose of the merit system is to hire, retain and promote individuals based on their qualifications and ability. The SCSC has a staff of 181 employees. It provides services to 34 state agencies and approximately 61,000 state employees, and more than 300 local government agencies with 9,000 merit system employees. Services include counseling, recruiting and testing candidates for employment; certifying the names of successful candidates to hiring agencies; auditing and reviewing appointments and other personnel transactions; investigating alleged wrongdoing; and adjudicating appeals. …

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