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Frequently Asked Questions Assessment Policy

  • OPM encourages agencies to consider the use of structured interviews.  When designed appropriately and used correctly, they have the ability to predict the future job performance of applicants with relatively low adverse impact on minority groups compared to other assessment tools.  The structured interview is among the most valid assessment tools available.    For more information regarding structured interviews, please visit the Structured Interviews page of OPM's Assessment and Selection website (http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/structured-interviews/) and the Structured Interview Guide (http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/structured-interviews/guide.pdf).   Another good source for more information on structured interviews is the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board report, "The Federal Selection Interview: Unrealized Potential," (http://www.mspb.gov/netsearch/viewdocs.aspx?docnumber=253635&version=253922&application=ACROBAT).    For additional information regarding how to create and conduct a structured interview, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • Yes, a hiring manager may ask that the candidates perform a writing exercise (i.e., responding to a pre-determined question) once the candidates have been found to be the best qualified and are at the end of the hiring process (i.e., at the final interview).   However, a writing sample like that is not scored; it's merely used to inform the hiring manager of the candidate's writing ability.  And just like a "real" assessment or test, there are still many aspects to the process that need to be followed:
    • Clearly notify applicants in the job opportunity announcement that they may be required to participate in a writing exercise and at what point in the assessment process this will occur.
    • Develop the question(s), or "prompt(s)," the candidates will respond to (or address).
    • Ensure each candidate receives the same question and testing considerations.
    You will also need to consider:
    • Testing environment
      • Type of room – Will it be the hiring manager's office, conference room, or another room? 
      • Use of computers – Will a laptop be needed?  Will you want the candidates to be able to access the Internet?  Can they use spell-check?
      • Geographically remote applicants – For any candidates who are not local, consider using technology as appropriate
      • Maximum amount of time for writing
      • Maximum and minimum lengths of writing sample
    It is up to your discretion how you (or the hiring manager) collect the writing sample.  For example, you could ask the candidate to respond to a question or have them fix a grammatically-incorrect paper.  Just keep in mind what writing skill you want to measure in order to guide the development of the assessment.   As with all testing practices, it's paramount to standardize the process, meaning that all candidates who are asked to produce a writing sample are treated the same, given the same question, and so forth.   For more information regarding the development of writing samples, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • Yes, under delegated competitive examining, an agency may establish its own retesting policy and procedures.  The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (Section 12: Retesting of Applicants, http://uniformguidelines.com/uniformguidelines.html#50) requires employers to provide applicants with "a reasonable opportunity for retesting and reconsideration."  It's good practice to provide a reasonable opportunity for retesting, which should also be consistently communicated to all applicants.  Unless the examination announcement states otherwise, the default policy is that applicants may reapply and be reassessed at any time as long as the examination is still open.   The technical and/or administrative basis for a retesting policy should be clearly explained and documented (e.g., availability of alternate forms of an assessment, impact on the validity or integrity of the assessment process).  Additional retesting information appears in other authoritative sources such as:   Factors that should be considered with retesting include:  
    • Eligibility:  The conditions which prompt or allow retesting and how retesting will take place need to be explained to applicants.  Conditions typically include the elapse of specific time intervals or the completion of a required developmental activity or required corrective action (e.g., correcting errors or disruptions in assessment administration, delivery, or scoring).
     
    • Opportunity:  Some employers will only open their examinations when a job vacancy needs to be filled, while others offer continuous testing with an open continuous announcement.
     
    • Change in the Assessment:  If an assessment changes, applicants are required to retest.  Examples may include significant modifications to the scoring process, qualifying level, or assessment content.
     
    • Type of Assessment:  Retesting considerations must be appropriate to the nature of the assessment. 
      • For cognitive measures (e.g., mental ability, job knowledge), repeated exposure to the examination material may threaten test security (e.g., test items could be copied or memorized) and can undermine the validity and usefulness of the assessment.  For example, applicants can obtain high scores by "learning the test" rather than mastering the work content domain from which the items are sampled.  
      • For non-cognitive measures (e.g., personality, biodata, training and experience questionnaires), there is minimal harm in repeated exposure to assessment items because responses are usually based on the applicant's past experiences, opinions, or preferences rather than on objectively verifiable facts.
     
    • Waiting Period:  The retest waiting period is the time interval that an applicant must wait to retake an assessment, starting at the assessment administration date.  Typical intervals are three months to three years for cognitive assessments and zero days to three years for non-cognitive assessments.  Some employers allow a limited number of retests to be given within a specified time period (e.g., up to three retests will be given at any time within a 12-month period).
     
    • Score Replacement:  When applicants are permitted to retest, consideration must be given to which score becomes the score of record:  the highest, lowest, or most recent?  Most employers and college admissions screeners use the scores earned on the most recent test administration when making eligibility and selection decisions. 
     
    • Availability of Multiple Forms:  Multiple, parallel (equivalent or possibly adaptive) versions of an assessment may need to be developed for assessments where repeated exposure to the examination content undermines validity (e.g., most cognitive measures).  Where feasible, applicants should not be given the same form of the assessment twice in a row.
      Employers and other users of high-stakes assessments are subject to legal and other pressures to provide reassessment and reconsideration opportunities to applicants.  The major consideration is the potential for retesting to undermine the integrity and usefulness of the assessment procedure.   For more information regarding retesting policy, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • Response distortion (whether high or low) has long been a challenge with self-report occupational questionnaires.  Employing the following suggestions may help:  
    • Write questions in terms of observable and verifiable behaviors
    • Use warnings/verification statements that identify the consequences of false claims.  (NOTE: This should be done either at the beginning of the questions or within the job opportunity announcement.)
    • Ask applicants for verifying sources (e.g., previous supervisors) so the responses can be checked for accuracy
    • Follow-up with a confirmatory assessment (e.g., a work sample test, structured interview)
    Research has shown that warning applicants in advance that their responses are subject to verification can be a powerful incentive to answer honestly.   For more information regarding occupational questionnaires, please visit the Occupational Questionnaire page of OPM's Assessment and Selection website (http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/occupational-questionnaires/) or contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • In short, OPM does not offer specific guidance to agencies on the use of personality tests to assess candidates.  Please check your agency's policies on using personality tests to assess candidates because policies may vary by agency.   In general, personality tests that are designed to measure work-related traits in normal adult populations are permissible.  The personality factors assessed most frequently in work situations include Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Openness to Experience.  As with any assessment tool used to make an employment decision, personality tests must meet the technical standards established in the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (http://uniformguidelines.com/).   It is important to recognize that some personality tests are designed to diagnose psychiatric conditions (e.g., paranoia, schizophrenia, compulsive disorders) rather than work-related personality traits.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considers any test designed to reveal such psychiatric disorders as a "medical examination."  Examples of such medical tests include the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) and the Millon Clinical Multi-Axial Inventory (MCMI).    Under the ADA, personality tests meeting the definition of a medical examination may only be administered after an offer of employment has been made.  The following memorandum, "OPM Adjudication of Psychiatric/Psychological Objections," contains further information on making the distinction between medical and non-medical psychological and personality tests: http://www.chcoc.gov/Transmittals/TransmittalDetails.aspx?TransmittalID=1742.    For information on the validity and proper use of personality tests, see OPM's Assessment Decision Guide: http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/reference-materials/assessmentdecisionguide.pdf   For more information regarding the use of personality tests, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • No, the agency does not have to provide the accommodation specifically requested by the applicant.  The only requirement is that the accommodation be effective.  It does not have to be the best accommodation, or even the one specifically requested by the applicant.  Please see the following excerpts:  
    Technical Assistance Manual:  Title I of the ADA (http://askjan.org/links/ADAtam1.html) III.THE REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION OBLIGATION   3.4 Some Basic Principles of Reasonable Accommodation "A reasonable accommodation must be an effective accommodation. It must provide an opportunity for a person with a disability to achieve the same level of performance or to enjoy benefits or privileges equal to those of an average similarly-situated non-disabled person.  However, the accommodation does not have to ensure equal results or provide exactly the same benefits or privileges.   A reasonable accommodation need not be the best accommodation available, as long as it is effective for the purpose; that is, it gives the person with a disability an equal opportunity to be considered for a job, to perform the essential functions of the job, or to enjoy equal benefits and privileges of the job."
     
    Enforcement Guidance:  Reasonable Accommodation and Undue Hardship Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/accommodation.html)   9.  Is an employer required to provide the reasonable accommodation that the individual wants?   "The employer may choose among reasonable accommodations as long as the chosen accommodation is effective.  Thus, as part of the interactive process, the employer may offer alternative suggestions for reasonable accommodations and discuss their effectiveness in removing the workplace barrier that is impeding the individual with a disability.   If there are two possible reasonable accommodations, and one costs more or is more burdensome than the other, the employer may choose the less expensive or burdensome accommodation as long as it is effective (i.e., it would remove a workplace barrier, thereby providing the individual with an equal opportunity to apply for a position, to perform the essential functions of a position, or to gain equal access to a benefit or privilege of employment).  Similarly, when there are two or more effective accommodations, the employer may choose the one that is easier to provide.  In either situation, the employer does not have to show that it is an undue hardship to provide the more expensive or more difficult accommodation.  If more than one accommodation is effective, 'the preference of the individual with a disability should be given primary consideration.  However, the employer providing the accommodation has the ultimate discretion to choose between effective accommodations.' (29 C.F.R. pt. 1630 app. §1630.9 (1997)."
      For more information regarding assessment accommodations, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • Yes, agencies can develop – or purchase – their own assessments as long as the development, validation, and use of the assessments are consistent with:   Detailed information on assessment method considerations can be found in OPM's Assessment Decision Guide (http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/reference-materials/assessmentdecisionguide.pdf).  The guide covers the essential concepts behind personnel assessment and will allow your agency to:  
    • Learn about the benefits and limitations of various assessment methods and strategies,
    • Evaluate and implement assessment tools that help improve the match between jobs and employees, and
    • Become familiar with the professional and legal guidelines to follow when administering an assessment program
      The guide also contains an extensive list of resource materials if you need more information on a particular topic and a glossary for quick clarification of assessment terms and concepts.   The Assessment Decision Tool (http://apps.opm.gov/adt/ADTClientMain.aspx?JScript=1) is designed to assist HR professionals in developing assessment strategies based on specific competencies and other factors relevant to their hiring situations (e.g., applicant volume, level of available resources).  The issues to consider when selecting or developing an assessment strategy or specific assessment tool are complex.  The level of expertise needed to develop most assessments can vary greatly, and some can be quite substantial.    If an agency is interested in purchasing an assessment, Appendix B of the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook (http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/deo_handbook.pdf) lists criteria you may want to consider when choosing an assessment vendor.  Under delegated examining, the decision to administer assessments for particular occupations and the responsibility to defend the use of those assessments rests with the agencies.  Also, many vendors offer professionally-developed assessments, including OPM:  http://www.opm.gov/services-for-agencies/assessment-evaluation/   For more information regarding assessment development, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • When assessing the appropriateness of an employee selection procedure, it is important to distinguish between competencies that are needed upon entry to the job and those that are acquired after selection, either through on-the-job experience or training.  Only those competencies that applicants are expected to possess the first day on the job are appropriate to use for selection purposes.  Conversely, those competencies that employees will be expected to learn on the job should not be the subject of an employee selection requirement.  Competencies not considered essential on the first day of the job – even those that eventually will be critical for job performance – can unfairly eliminate otherwise qualified applicants. Please see Appendix G in the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook for more information regarding competency importance and ratings: http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/deo_handbook.pdf For more information, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • An assessment accommodation is defined as a change in how an assessment is presented or how the applicant is asked to respond.  Accommodations may include changes in the presentation format, response format, assessment setting, timing, or scheduling.  The purpose of an assessment accommodation is to provide equal access to the examination process for applicants with disabilities.  Accommodations are intended to lessen the impact of the applicant's functional limitation on the assessment process without:  
    • Fundamentally altering the nature of the examination,
    • Compromising the security, validity, or reliability of the examination,
    • Providing an unfair advantage to the applicant with the disability, or
    • Imposing an undue hardship on the agency.
      While providing accommodations will presumably enable applicants to better demonstrate their mastery of job-related competencies or knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs), assessment accommodations are not a guarantee of improved performance, test completion, or a passing score.   Specific guidance is provided in Appendix O (Assessing Applicants with Disabilities) of the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook:  http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/deo_handbook.pdf For more information regarding assessment accommodations, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • If the intended results are not achieved with a particular question, it may be considered for elimination before final scoring of the assessment (i.e., given an effective weight of zero).  Any adjustments to the scoring procedure should be based on a sound rationale, implemented uniformly for all applicants, evaluated for potential negative impact (e.g., maintaining coverage of critical competencies), and thoroughly documented.   It is highly recommended that you administer the interview questions as part of a trial run (or pilot) before using any interview questions in the "real" interview(s).  Doing a trial run of the interview questions allow you to determine whether the question(s) is(are) clearly worded and elicit an acceptable range of responses.  A pilot test will often reveal if any revisions need to be made.  To be useful, the pilot test should mimic the actual structured interview process as closely as possible.  Refer to page 14 of OPM's Structured Interview Guide (http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/structured-interviews/guide.pdf) for a discussion of pilot testing interview questions and evaluating the interview process.   For additional information regarding structured interviews, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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