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Frequently Asked Questions Assessment Policy

  • The ACWA can be administered both online and as a paper-and-pencil (written) test, with the online option being used much more frequently.  If you are applying for an ACWA position through a job opportunity announcement on OPM's USAJOBS (http://www.usajobs.gov), you will see a reference to an "On-line assessment questionnaire" under the How to Apply tab or section.  The on-line assessment is the ACWA questionnaire.   If you would like to find out more about ACWA, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • Yes, a crediting plan, which is the same thing as a rating schedule (i.e., occupational questionnaire), can be considered an approved alternative assessment to the ACWA provided the crediting plan is based on a thorough job analysis and is related to the competencies or knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) required for successful performance in the job being filled.   If an agency uses a crediting plan/rating schedule, the development and implementation of the assessment(s) must be consistent with the technical standards in the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (http://uniformguidelines.com/).   If you have any further questions regarding ACWA or use of validated selection procedures, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • No, agencies may not replace the ACWA assessments with education requirements (http://www.chcoc.gov/transmittals/TransmittalDetails.aspx?TransmittalID=2064).  Education and other such minimum qualification requirements do not constitute a rating and ranking (i.e., assessment) procedure as required by the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook (DEOH):  http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/deo_handbook.pdf Minimum requirements screening is the first step in the examining process, but by itself does not satisfy the requirement to rate and rank applicants (see Chapter 5, Section B of the DEOH).   If you have any further questions regarding ACWA or validating selection procedures, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • Yes, it is acceptable to develop validated assessment alternatives to ACWA as long as the alternative complies with the following requirements:   5 CFR 300.103 states that selection procedures must have a rational relationship to job performance, including showing that the selection procedures were "professionally developed."    The phrase "professionally developed" comes from Title VII (Sect. 703h) (http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm).  The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (http://uniformguidelines.com/) interprets "professionally developed" to mean a selection procedure that is validated according to the technical standards in the Uniform Guidelines. The Uniform Guidelines also states that a validity study can be "performed by any person competent to apply the principles of validity research."    If you have any further questions regarding ACWA or validating selection procedures, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • OPM recommends continued use of ACWA if an agency has not developed alternative procedures for those positions identified in Appendix D of the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook (http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/deo_handbook.pdf).  The March 6, 2009, Memorandum, "Use of Validated Assessment Tools When Filling Positions in the Competitive Service," provides additional information (http://www.chcoc.gov/transmittals/TransmittalDetails.aspx?TransmittalID=2064).   If you have any further questions regarding ACWA or use of validated selection procedures, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • Yes, the ACWA occupational questionnaires were designed for entry-level applicants who are expected to have only limited work experience.  ACWA assessments are intended to distinguish among applicants on the basis of their self-reported education and life experiences rather than occupation-specific work experience.  The accomplishment-related questions give credit for experience gained through not only paid work, but other types of work as well (e.g., school, voluntary, charitable).  Applicants who have worked on a temporary or part-time basis in the occupations they are applying for do receive credit, but only to the extent that their work experience provides evidence of demonstrating entry-level competencies.   More information about ACWA is provided in Chapter 2 of the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook:  http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/deo_handbook.pdf   If you would like to find out more about ACWA, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • Recency is typically defined by the number of years that have elapsed since the job-relevant training or experience was acquired.  The implication is that those lacking "recent" experience (however that term is defined by the employer) may be  given less credit in the assessment process.  However an employer, or agency, decides to use recency, under the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (http://uniformguidelines.com/), it is imperative a selection procedure's method of application or use must be justified.*  It is conceivable that recency may be a job-related factor for occupational areas subject to rapid change (e.g., medicine, information technology, and engineering) or for skills or knowledge that decay from lack of use. A recency requirement is no different from any other selection procedure used as a basis for disqualification.  In each case, the employer or agency must provide evidence of a demonstrable relationship between the employee selection procedure and job performance.  In terms of a recency factor, justification may involve providing evidence of major changes in the nature of the work (e.g., in terms of basic theory, practice, or subject matter) or degradation in critical job competencies over time. 
    *See Uniform Guidelines at 15c(7), http://uniformguidelines.com/:   "(7) Uses and applications. The methods considered for use of the selection procedure (e.g., as a screening device with a cutoff score, for grouping or ranking, or combined with other procedures in a battery) and available evidence of their impact should be described (essential). This description should include the rationale for choosing the method for operational use, and the evidence of the validity and utility of the procedure as it is to be used (essential)."
    For additional information regarding the use of recency in assessments, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • In short, OPM does not offer specific guidance to agencies on how accommodation requests are processed.  Please check your agency's policies on processing accommodation requests because policies may vary by agency.   For some general information in regards to processing accommodation requests, you may want to consult the Association on Higher Education and Disabilities (AHEAD) "Guidelines for Documentation of a Learning Disability in Adolescents and Adults" (available on several websites, for example: http://www.ldonline.org/article/6127/).    The guidelines are used by numerous educational institutions, testing organizations, and employers to evaluate the adequacy of documentation used to support the existence of learning disabilities.  Documentation of a "specific learning disability" (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) term) often requires gathering information from aptitude (intelligence quotient, or IQ), achievement, and information processing tests.  The results should be summarized in a report by a qualified evaluator (e.g., a mental health professional with experience and training in the assessment of learning problems).   If the applicant does indeed have a specific learning impairment, the battery of test results should show average to above-average mental ability (IQ of 100 or higher) in combination with pronounced difficulties in one or more specific areas of achievement.  IQ/achievement score differences that reach statistical significance are used to support a clinical diagnosis of a learning disorder.  However, a clinical diagnosis only rises to the level of a "disability" under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if the individual is unable to perform, or is substantially limited in the ability to perform, an activity "compared to an average person in the general population" (see EEOC's "Technical Assistance Manual: Title I of the ADA, Section II," http://askjan.org/links/ADAtam1.html).    In terms of achievement scores, the average adult is assumed to function at the high school level.  For instance, an applicant whose intellectual functioning is at the college level but only achieves at the high school level (because of a learning impairment) would normally not meet the ADA legal criteria of having a disability.  Not all clinically diagnosed impairments meet the "substantially limited" criteria under the ADA.   For more information regarding assessment accommodations, 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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  • 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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