Sunday, March 22, 2020

Thoughts on the Assessment Process

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.  ~    Carl Jung

As I write these words, I am a senior citizen, sequestered on my wildlife sanctuary homestead. A Pandemic is causing the shutdown of the world around me.  Health authorities are responding to a respiratory illness called COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus. Scientific leaders are reporting that we do not yet have adequate tools to access, much less halt this highly contagious threat, especially to the elderly and others with compromised immunity.  The major prescription is social distancing and hand washing. Economists report a growing number facing unemployment as businesses are on a roller coaster in steep decline. With major cities going to lockdown we are moving quickly towards depression. This is unpresented in my lifetime and the future is uncertain to say the least.

I started my Counseling Career within the NJ Department of Labor working for the Public Employment Services. Developed during the 1930s the GATB (General Aptitude Test Battery) was the test we used supposedly to assess “Cognitive (G,V,N), Perceptual (S,P,Q) and Psychomotor (K,F,M) abilities.  GATB Career Assessment Research  Back then, the last three decades of the 20th Century, if people were interested in funded training they were routinely “tested” as a step in the process and it was not uncommon to test applicants if requested by employers.  I had coworkers who marketed our services to employers, at no cost because we were the government, which served our needs to protect our jobs helping our job applicants find gainful employment. I had coworkers that were “certified” who administered and monitored the standardized, timed tests, in specified environments. I did not test, but I was taught to interpret the results.

I was serving a client who scored well above average in eight of the tests and well below average in one. It did not make sence to me and I thought, unless perhaps subconsciously she had self-sabotaged.  Every training and every job had a minimum set of numbers people had to hit for consideration and her one low score eliminated virtually all options. As I recall that was the theme of our counseling session. I did remember from graduate school in the course on statistics, that while hitting numbers on achievement tests and aptitude tests “proved” a person possessed the ability, not hitting the numbers was not proving otherwise. I read an article the other day about coronavirus testing and the statistical possibility of false negatives and false positives.  Yes, I know they are dealing with a life threatening situation, but my understanding, my experience, is through the lens of employment counseling.

I suppose employers who used our tests to “ensure” they had “qualified” prospective new employees, were putting a lot of faith in the value of the procedure. However, I remembered a fraternity brother in college who had lost considerable money at the race track and found it necessary to apply for a position at the local convenience store. He had been given a test supposedly to measure not only cognitive abilities, but also the degree of his honesty. He was an upperclassman, quite intelligent, scored exceptionally well in math and verbal ability and was laughing at how easily he saw through the attempts to unveil his veracity. Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted about Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai writing, “The coronavirus fear-mongering by the Deep State will go down in history as one of the biggest frauds to manipulate economies, suppress dissent, & push MANDATED Medicine!” His source was the heavily “right” leaning, conservative Western Journal. Obviously, every situation, every assessment test, has a wide variety of interpretations about truth. Looking at alternative sources is called Lateral Reading, a fact checker tool!  

Today we have an incredible array of instruments available, formal and informal assessments, to give us clues about test takers.   As helping professionals, our task is to ensure the appropriate use of assessment, research, and evaluation techniques. We have to consider with our “customers” the purpose of assessment, what we want to measure and why, and help in the process of exploration. We need to acquire and elicit an understanding of assessment devices that claim to measure strengths, personality preferences, work values and a host of various other options.

Using a test professionally in the Career Development or Employment Process undoubtedly is related to a theory which holds some truth for us or the person we are serving. When I wrote my Thesis on Employment Counseling back in 1975, I took many of the major assessments available at the time and wrote about their value in relationship to me. The experience was quite enlightening.

Hopefully we consult with colleagues to hear about the value they have experienced using such tools with their clients. I know members of the Association for Research and Assessment in Counseling who revel in reading about the validity and reliability of standardized formal assessment, measuring algorithms, contemplating design, accuracy and scientific approach. Many libraries offer access to the Mental Measurements Yearbook containing information and critical evaluations, pros and cons, of educational and psychological tests.  

Assessment products are quite diverse in Career Counseling and yet, often we see many of the same components. O*NET is the federal government’s Occupational Information System, our country’s primary source of occupational information.  It also contains an Interest Profiler, Work Importance Locator, Work importance Profiler, Skills Search and Ability Profiler and many pathways of interconnection.  Because its creation was funded by tax payer dollars, everything is open source and free of charge. Many companies have created their own systems for sale using O*NET components. If you have taken a Counseling Theory class, you are familiar with the Self Directed Search , based on John Holland’s RIASEC Theory, the classification of people and environments into six basic types.  Career Key , is quite popular in College Counseling Centers, focusing on finding a college major in relationship to career, incorporating RIASEC.

As a Baby Boomers, I remember in elementary school, sticking a pin through answers about preferences in a packaged paper tool called the Kuder  preference test. Today the online Kuder Journey is popular in Military Career Counseling and many school systems. Fun assessments, some with considerable sophistication, start early in life. The Northwest Evaluation Association is a nonprofit that offers a large list of digital tools for teachers on their NWEA Blog.   

Helping people tell their story is clearly at the core of the assessment process. We know the medical professionals give us forms to get our past history and ask us questions about how we feel and observe our actions. Consciously and unconsciously we all are measuring body language and emotional expressions.  In career counseling, tools like the Genogram help look at family history and the possible influences of our relatives and ancestors. Mind Mapping is a process of drawing associations, starting from anywhere, and continuing to construct paths in any direction, as relationships and ideas come into our mind. Electronic Portfolios expand beyond the resume and give us the opportunity to assess who we are as we display talents and personal creations.

Moving away from cognitive approaches, more artistic practitioners find that Music, Art, Sand Tray and other non-verbal approaches can provide considerable insights as assessment tools. Medical School Education is also now embracing a more artistic curriculum, “Professors argue that engaging in the arts during medical school, whether through required courses or extracurricular activities, is valuable in developing essential skills that doctors need, like critical thinking and observational and communication skills, as well as bias awareness and empathy.” ~

When our lives are too hectic, we have too large a case load or are responding to a medical crises with a sence of urgency looming above in a very dark cloud, the stress can be overwhelming. Self-care is mandatory and at minimum short breaks for positive meditative visualizations are my prescription.  

Assessment begins as soon as we begin to collect information. Hopefully our intake procedure and that of our front line coronavirus warriors is well designed and we all are asking the right questions. When we engage, from a sociological perspective, we can consider environmental and cultural influences that might be in play. However, from a psychological perspective we must never forget that a unique individual is before us. By establishing a trusting relationship and asking questions for clarification and actively listening, their world will unfold into our consciousness.

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.    ~   Michelangelo