ERIC Identifier: ED389960
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Harrington, Thomas F.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Counseling and Student Services Greensboro NC.
Assessment of Abilities. ERIC Digest.
This digest recommends assessing all of a person's abilities, not just some.
It also discusses self-report in the context of ability assessment. The term
aptitude often is used also in defining ability, and sometimes these terms are
used interchangeably. Ability as used here follows Anastasi's (1988) concept of
"developed abilities." Her viewpoint is that "all ability tests - whether they
be designed as general intelligence tests, multiple aptitude batteries, special
aptitude tests, or achievement tests - measure the level of development attained
by the individual in one or more abilities" (p.413).
WHAT ARE THE MAJOR ABILITIES?
In 1976, Harrington and
O'Shea identified 14 abilities found in U.S. Department of Labor publications
and began assessing them in a self-report format. They reviewed 113 concurrent
validity studies composed of vocational/technical programs, college and
university majors, and employees in different jobs, and concluded that a high
degree of agreement existed between the participants' self-reports on the 14
abilities and job analysts' findings of abilities required for job performance.
Later, in 1992, Harrington altered the listing by adding organization and
reading ability and collapsing computational with mathematical (Harrington & O'Shea, 1993). The 15 major abilities thus identified were:
Technical ability is a broader term that integrates many mechanical
abilities. Retitling this ability acknowledges past research that shows a clear
gender differentiation for mechanical ability. Schools and society should
address such biases for certain abilities.
Scientific ability, a hybrid involving conceptualizing, memory, and perhaps
interest in the area, requires early identification because of the hierarchical
way the ability is nurtured and developed within our educational system.
Developing scientific ability after little exposure is more difficult for people
in their late teens and early adulthood than at a chronologically earlier age.
The critical dimension is a person's exposure and identification with the unique
subset of skills as being doable for him or her. Self-efficacy beliefs or
feelings of adequacy, both of which can be part of the ability construct, need
Readers will find the above abilities in the literature but with different
names. In a summary of 25 years of research, Prediger (1992) reported the same
major skills, except that he identified literary rather than the
musical/dramatic ability listed above. Lowman (1991) included in his literature
review 11 of the above abilities as having career relevance. He did not list
four of the abilities as major abilities--scientific, reading, social, and
persuasive. Instead he cited intelligence as more predictive for science
occupations. He wrote, "Interpersonal skills or social intelligence appears not
to be a unidimensional construct" (p. 109). He set forth a taxonomy of social
demands, however, that clearly differentiates interpersonal from helping skills,
which require the ability to understand the behavior and feelings of others.
Lowman expressed that personal factors are most important in predicting sales
performance. So science, social, and persuasive domains were recognized but were
not attributed as primary abilities. Reading and language were cited among the
small number of factors found in the verbal factor.
Common existing tests measure six to eight of the abilities listed in the
first column, above. This narrow band of abilities emerged from the
multi-aptitude measures, mostly developed in the late 1940's. Job analysts, on
the other hand, identify many of the aptitudes listed in the second column as
necessary abilities for some jobs. Unfortunately, young people are evaluated on
these abilities and educators seldom identify them for self exploration.
It should be mentioned that knowledge of an individual's ability profile may
be of moot value. Hunter (1986), after reviewing hundreds of studies, wrote
"...cognitive ability predicts job performance in all jobs...including the
so-called 'manual' jobs as well as 'mental' jobs" (p. 340). He continued,
"Cognitive ability predicts job performance in large part because it predicts
learning and job mastery. Ability is highly correlated with job knowledge and
job knowledge is highly correlated with job performance" (p. 354).
IF THEY ARE IMPORTANT, WHY HAVEN'T TESTS OF THESE ABILITIES BEEN AVAILABLE?
The regression model, which minimizes the
number of tests used in predicting success, has dominated the field of ability
measurement. Goldman (1972), among others, pointed out that multiple aptitude
batteries have limited differential predictive value and they do not offer much
more than an intelligence or academic ability test. He felt that multiple
aptitude tests have little to offer in counseling clients in their decision
making and career planning. He wrote, "The main contribution of tests in
counseling is not making predictions but facilitating the clarification of self
concept" (p. 219). The National Commission on Testing and Public Policy (1990)
also called for the transformation of testing in America from a gatekeeper to
that of a facilitator. The Commission stated testing programs must change from
an over reliance on objective tests to alternative forms of assessment that help
people become aware of and develop their talents. With most state plans for
career development calling for students to record data about their abilities, a
longer list of abilities is relevant for life planning.
WHAT IS SELF-REPORT METHODOLOGY AND HOW DOES ITS VALIDITY COMPARE WITH THE TRADITIONAL APPROACH?
self-report assessment formats have been used. One is simply a listing of
abilities with definitions and directions to indicate those areas you feel are
your best or strongest. A second approach is to apply a Likert scale to a group
of designated abilities. For example, in comparison to others of the same age,
my art ability is excellent, above average, average, below average, or poor.
Another approach is, for each ability, to provide different examples of the
ability's applications on which individuals rate their performance level from
high to low, and subsequently these are summed to obtain a total score. Whereas
most multiple ability testing situations need several hours, the time required
for the above formats ranges from 10 to 45 minutes.
Self-report assessment is cheaper and less time intrusive on a school's
schedule. How do the approaches compare regarding validity? Ghiselli's (1973)
summary of the average validity coefficients of different kinds of aptitude
tests used to predict proficiency in the eight major occupational categories of
the General Occupational Classification System shows that the coefficients are
typically in the .20's and rarely go above the .30's. The average validity
coefficient for prediction of proficiency on the job was .22. In a review of 55
self-evaluation of ability scales, Mabe and West (1982) reported a range of
correlation coefficients from -.026 to .80, with a mean coefficient of .29
(depending on the meta-analytic method used).
More recently, Westbrook, Buck, Sanford, and Wynne (1994) demonstrated that
it is possible to get acceptable reliability and validity coefficients for self
ratings which approach the size of the validity coefficients reported for
objective measures of ability. Their comparative measure was the Differential
Aptitude Test (DAT). In another study based on the common criterion of
self-reported abilities of employees, Harrington and Schafer (in press) compared
the abilities required for jobs from Guide for Occupational Exploration (GOE)
job analysis data with the General Aptitude Test Battery's (GATB) Occupational
Aptitude Patterns (OAP). The GOE and OAP average percentages were compared in
order to evaluate which was more consistent with workers' self expressions of
their abilities. Across the 51 occupations studied, 49 of the GOE averages were
larger versus one in which the OAP average was larger. It was concluded that the
GOE analysis data are more congruent with worker-identified job abilities than
the GATB analyses.
Current use of self-assessment methodology taps
more ability areas than existing ability or aptitude tests cover. Alternative
testing approaches have been called for which enhance self discovery and
awareness. Some recent self-report studies show at least comparable validity
with more traditional approaches. Some researchers are advocating the
self-assessment methodology which can substantially cut loss of instructional
time and cost, evaluate hard-to-assess constructs, and deliver information most
people feel is useful for self knowledge and career planning. Philosophically,
the process of self evaluation fits the belief that individuals are in the best
position to assess since they have access to a large data base on their own
successes and failures in their abilities. Most misgivings about the methodology
seem to center around beliefs that individuals have a tendency to be lenient and
are not objective enough in their self analysis to provide accurate self
Anastasi, A. (1988). Psychological Testing (6th
ed.). New York: MacMillan Publishing.
Ghiselli, E. E. (1973). The validity of aptitude tests in personnel
selection. Personnel Psychology, 26, 461-477.
Goldman, L. (1972). Tests and counseling. The marriage that failed.
Measurement and Evaluation in Guidance, 4, 213-220.
Harrington, T. F. & O'Shea, A. J. (1993). The Harrington-O'Shea career
decision-making system, revised manual. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance
Harrington, T. F. & Schafer, W. D. (in press). A comparison of
self-reported abilities and occupational ability patterns across occupations.
Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development.
Hunter, J. E. (1986). Cognitive ability, cognitive aptitudes, job knowledge,
and job performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 29, 340-362.
Lowman, R. L. (1991). The clinical practice of career assessment: Interests,
abilities and personality. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Mabe, P. A. III & West, S. G. (1982). Validity of self-evaluation of
ability: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67, 280-296.
National Commission on Testing & Public Policy (1990). From gatekeeper to
gateway. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College.
Prediger, D. (1992). Identifying and assigning abilities to ACT job clusters
and Holland's occupational types. Paper presented at the convention of the
American Association for Counseling and Development, Baltimore, MD.
Westbrook, B. W., Buck, R. W., Jr., Sanford, E., & Wynne, D. C. (1994).
Career maturity in adolescence: Reliability and validity of self-ratings of
abilities by gender and ethnicity. Journal of Career Assessment, 2, 125-161.