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Frequently Asked Questions Assessment Policy

  • In the "Presidential Memorandum (Section 1: Directions to Agencies)," the second item talks about assessing applicants using valid, reliable tools (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/presidential-memorandum-improving-federal-recruitment-and-hiring-process).  Structured interviews provide a consistent, structured methodology for assessing applicants, and as such, meet the legal and professional standards for an assessment method when developed and administered properly.

    Research has demonstrated that structured interviews can be reliable, valid measures of competencies.  They are legally defensible when the interview questions target job-related behaviors and/or experiences identified through a job analysis.  The use of job-related assessments increases the likelihood of hiring high-quality candidates.

    Structured interviews are also a great tool to assess those competencies that may be difficult to measure with other assessments, such as Teamwork, Oral Communication, and Interpersonal Skills.

    For more information about structured interviews, please visit the Structured Interviews page on the Selection and Assessment website (http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/structured-interviews/).

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  • There are many benefits to using occupational questionnaires.  They are easy to automate, they allow for positions to be filled quickly, they are relatively inexpensive compared to other assessment methods, and they are efficient.   Occupational questionnaires are not burdensome and appear fair to applicants.  They can also be used to assess a wide variety of competencies while posing no problems with test security.  For all these reasons, most agencies are using occupational questionnaires. 

    For more information regarding occupational questionnaires, please visit the Occupational Questionnaire page of the OPM's Assessment and Selection website: http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/occupational-questionnaires/

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  • Please check with your human resources office concerning agency-specific guidelines for assessment documentation, such as what information should be recorded, how long it should be stored, who should hold the information, etc.  Be sure to store all documentation in a safe, secure area.
    In addition, please refer to the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook, Appendix C - Records Retention and Disposition Schedule, regarding the length of time records are to be retained: http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/deo_handbook.pdf   
    Also, the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures (http://www.uniformguidelines.com/uniformguidelines.html) has a section dedicated to documentation, with Section 15, subpart C(4) specifically addressing documenting selection procedures and related content.

    If you have further questions, please contact us at Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • To select the competencies, or content areas, to assess in the structured interview: 

    1) conduct a job analysis and/or review the job analysis data to determine the tasks and competencies that are critical to the position, 
    2) review the competencies necessary to perform the tasks, 
    3) identify the competencies that are required upon entry, and 
    4) obtain confirmation of the selected competencies from subject matter experts (SMEs). 

    You may have, or end up with, more critical competencies from your job analysis than can be covered during a structured interview.  You may be able to narrow your competency selection by: 

    1) measuring some of the competencies via other assessment methods (e.g., occupational questionnaire), 
    2) asking your SMEs to pick only those competencies that best identify, or distinguish, successful performers, and/or 
    3) asking your SMEs to select only those competencies that they believe are lacking among current incumbents.

    For more information about structured interviews, please visit the Structured Interviews page on the Selection and Assessment website (http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/structured-interviews/).

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  • Refer to the job analysis data for that position and select those competencies that are 1) critical (review the Need at Entry, Distinguishing Value and Importance ratings), and 2) measurable.  

    Also, check that the selected competencies (or content areas) measure only one competency and relate to the position.  A general rule of thumb is to select 4 – 8 competencies or content areas.

    For more information about job analysis, please visit the Job Analysis page of the OPM's Assessment and Selection website:  http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/assessment-and-selection/job-analysis/

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  • The ACWA written tests consist of two major components:

    • The ACWA Ability Test, and
    • The Individual Achievement Record (Test 975) 

    The ACWA Ability Test score is made up of two parts:

    • Part A: Verbal – vocabulary and reading items
    • Part B: Mathematical Reasoning – tabular completions and word problems

      NOTE:  The math and verbal parts are combined to create an overall score on the ability test.

    The Individual Achievement Record (IAR) is a biodata instrument.  A biodata instrument is a test that consists of items that ask about past events and behaviors which reflect personality attributes, attitudes, experiences, interests, and other characteristics related to a person's possible overall performance for a given occupation.

    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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  • The Administrative Careers With America (ACWA) rating schedule is a set of online occupational questionnaires used to evaluate applicants' relevant personal, educational, and work experiences.  An individual questionnaire takes about 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

     

    The questions are related to fundamental competencies, such as Problem Solving and Oral Communication.  The questionnaire gives credit for experiences applicants have gained through a wide variety of sources, for example:

    • School,
    • Volunteer work,
    • Military service,
    • Paid employment,
    • Hobbies, or
    • Professional, charitable, religious, community, social, or other organizations

     

    The ACWA rating schedules, or occupational questionnaires, were developed to provide agencies with another option in addition to the written tests for selecting individuals.  A separate occupational questionnaire was developed for each of the 111 occupations.  The occupational questionnaires assess different competencies from the ACWA written tests and can be used either alone or in combination with the ACWA written tests or a structured interview (see Section C of the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook, http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/deo_handbook.pdf).

     

    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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  • The Uniform Guidelines (http://uniformguidelines.com/) apply to all selection procedures used to make employment decisions, including written tests, interviews, review of experience or education from application forms, résumés, work samples, physical requirements, and evaluations of performance. 

    Employment decisions include, but are not limited to, hiring, promotion, demotion, membership (e.g., a labor organization), referral, retention, and licensing and certification (to the extent that licensing and certification may be covered by Federal equal employment opportunity law).  Other selection decisions, such as selection for training or transfer, may also be considered employment decisions if they lead to any of the decisions listed above (see sections 2B and 16Q in the Uniform Guidelines, http://uniformguidelines.com/, and Question 6 within Questions and Answers, http://uniformguidelines.com/qandaprint.html).

    For more information regarding the Uniform Guidelines, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • Agencies are not required to use ACWA and may use an alternative assessment tool as long as that alternative(s) complies with the following requirements:

     

     

     

    If an agency chooses to develop its own assessment tool, we recommend the agency consult with its legal counsel regarding whether the tool complies with all applicable requirements.  

     

    If you would like to find out more about ACWA, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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  • General policy guidance on assessment tools is provided in Chapter 2 of the Delegated Examining Operations Handbook (DEOH), http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/competitive-hiring/deo_handbook.pdf.  Writing evaluations belong to a class of assessments referred to as "work sample tests."  The guidance in the DEOH is not specific to writing assessments but the same principles would apply.  As with any other procedure used to make an employment decision, a writing assessment should be:

     

    • Supported by a job analysis,
    • Linked to one or more critical job competencies,
    • Included in the vacancy announcement, and
    • Based on standardized reviewing and scoring procedures.

     

    Other considerations may be important, such as the proposed method of use (e.g., as a selective placement factor, quality ranking factor) and specific measurement technique.  

     

    Writing performance has been evaluated using a wide range of techniques such as portfolio assessment, timed essay assignments, multiple-choice tests of language proficiency, self-reports of writing accomplishments (e.g., winning an essay contest, getting published), and grades in English writing courses.  Each technique has its advantages and disadvantages.

     

    For example, with the portfolio technique, applicants are asked to provide writing samples from school or work.  The advantage of this technique is that it has high face validity (that is, applicants perceive that the measure is valid based on simple visual inspection).  Disadvantages include difficulty verifying authorship, lack of opportunity (e.g., prior jobs may not have required report writing, the writing samples are proprietary or sensitive), and positive bias (e.g., only the very best writing pieces are submitted and others are selectively excluded). 

     

    Timed essay tests are also widely used to assess writing ability.  The advantage of timed essay tests is that all applicants are assessed under standardized conditions (e.g., same topic, same time constraints).  The disadvantage is that writing skill is based on a single work sample.  Many experts believe truly realistic evaluations of writing skill require several samples of writing without severe time constraints and the use of multiple judges to enhance scoring reliability.

     

    Multiple-choice tests of language proficiency have also been successfully employed to predict writing performance (perhaps because they assess the knowledge of grammar and language mechanics thought to underlie writing performance).  Multiple-choice tests are relatively cheap to administer and score, but unlike the portfolio or essay techniques, they lack a certain amount of face validity.  Research shows that the very best predictions of writing performance are obtained when essay and multiple choice tests are used in combination.

     

    There is also an emerging field based on the use of automated essay scoring (AES) in assessing writing ability.  Several software companies have developed different computer programs to rate essays by considering both the mechanics and content of the writing.

    The typical AES program needs to be "trained" on what features of the text to extract.  This is done by having expert human raters score 200 or more essays written on the same prompt (or question) and entering the results into the program.  The program then looks for these relevant text features in new essays on the same prompt and predicts the scores that expert human raters would generate.  AES offers several advantages over human raters such as immediate online scoring, greater objectivity, and capacity to handle high-volume testing.  The major limitation of current AES systems is that they can only be applied to pre-determined and pre-tested writing prompts, which can be expensive and resource-intensive to develop.

     

    However, please keep in mind that scoring writing samples can be very time-consuming regardless of method (e.g., whether the samples are obtained using the portfolio or by a timed essay).  A scoring rubric (that is, a set of standards or rules for scoring) is needed to guide judges in applying the criteria used to evaluate the writing samples.  Scoring criteria typically cover different aspects of writing such as content organization, grammar, sentence structure, and fluency.  We would recommend that only individuals with the appropriate background and expertise be involved in the review, analysis, evaluation, and scoring of the writing samples.

     

    For more information regarding the development of written assessments, please contact Assessment_Information@opm.gov.
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