Testing the Test Unabridged Version (Original Title: Harming Students by Using an Invalid Career Test Deletions from original manuscript by journal editor shown in cayenne ) Lawrence K. Jones, Ph.D., NCC in ASCA School Counselor , November/December, 2007, pp. 44-46, 48.
Are you harming students by using an invalid Internet-based career test? At first glance, this question may seem absurd, perhaps offensive. On the other hand, you may know that numer- ous articles have sounded the alarm about the quality of these measures and the ethics of their use, particularly in the Journal of Career Assessment .
This is a sensitive topic, especially chal- lenging for many honest, well- intentioned people and organizations who want to help students. Since I am a test developer, you may also consider my writing this article self-serving. But as you read on, I believe you will agree that this is a fair question, and a dis- turbing one for school counselors.
The growth in the popularity of the Internet has led to a proliferation of ca- reer tests, many of them free. There are also businesses that offer schools web-related products that include ca- reer tests. Typically, they include an assessment of Holland's six personality types and ... more. less.
relate the results to careers and college majors.<br><br> They go by a vari- ety of names like profiler, sorter, finder, test, or quiz. And, most of them are invalid measures; there is no proof that they measure what they purport to measure. Any test must be considered invalid unless there is evidence to show otherwise.<br><br> Invalid career tests can harm students. For a moment, imagine the effect of students getting the results of an inva- lid test of Holland's six personality types. Specifically, consider those stu- dents who most closely resemble the Enterprising type -- ones that like to lead and persuade people, and are good at it; who see themselves as en- ergetic and sociable.<br><br> How will they re- act when the test tells them they are Investigative (" Likes to study and solve math or science problems; generally avoids leading, selling, or persuad- ing." )? In addition to causing confusion and disbelief, how will this misinforma- tion affect their career exploration and decision-making? Their understanding of themselves?<br><br> Their confidence in you? And, what happens to those En- terprising students who are actually misled, who pursue science or math majors or careers -- career directions that don't fit them? Does this scenario sound far fetched?<br><br> Unfortunately, it is not. A test widely marketed to school counselors, the U.S. Department of Labor's O*NET Interest Profiler (IP), gives results just like the example above.<br><br> Similarly, people tak- ing the IP get high scores on the Artis- tic scale when they should get high scores on the Enterprising scale. O*NET's own research shows this. Nevertheless, many school websites © Copyright Career Key, Inc., All Rights Reserved.<br><br> link students and their parents to the IP website; the IP is used on well known state "Career Zone" websites; state ca- reer information systems promote it to schools and school counselors; and several companies package it in web services sold to schools. The IP is just the tip of the iceberg. Numerous Internet career "measures" like this are widely used by students, parents, and school counselors.<br><br> Com- pounding this problem, prominent peo- ple in the counseling field extol the vir- tues of these "cool career counseling tools" through websites, books, arti- cles, and public appearances. There are many factors to consider in selecting a career test, but none is more important than validity. In this article we will take a closer look at the IP, describe the harmful effects of using invalid career measures, review the ethical principles involved, and recom- mend practical tips for evaluating ca- reer tests.<br><br> An Illustration of Potential Harm: The O*NET Interest Profiler Unlike nearly all of the career tests on the Internet, O*NET provides informa- tion about the validity of its measure, the IP -- although it is quite limited. The 57-page User's Guide includes one page on validity based on four research reports done in 1999 that can be down- loaded from their website. None was published in refereed, professional journals.<br><br> O*NET has not published any other studies on the psychometrics of the IP, nor has anyone else. From these O*NET reports, you learn that the investigation of the IP's validity was limited to one group of partici- pants . In this group, only ten percent were 18 or younger (most were middle- aged); 62% of all participants were un- employed; and 22% had less than a high school education.<br><br> This group, ob- viously, is not appropriate for investi- gating the validity of the IP for students in schools. Reading further, the IP User's Guide re- ports that there is a "gap between the Realistic and Conventional Interest Ar- eas"; the results from these two scales do not fit the Holland Model. In addi- tion, the research reports show that the Enterprising and Social scales are flawed.<br><br> For example, those who are primarily Enterprising are often classi- fied as some other personality type 3 like Investigative or Artistic. Similarly, a large number of individuals classified as primarily Social are misclassified as primarily Conventional, Enterprising, or Investigative. Their research shows that the computerized version of the Interest Profiler has similar problems.<br><br> Clearly, no studies have been done us- ing the IP with students, nor is it a valid measure of Holland's personality types. This information is readily avail- able. So why are school counselors us- ing an invalid career test?<br><br> Why are people in organizations marketing it to them? Why do they recommend other test look-alikes on the Internet? The state leader of a career information service gave this mistaken explanation, "We encourage people to use several (assessments) and to compare the re- sults, because each survey has a differ- ent way of getting to a list of careers." Does it matter how students get a list of careers?<br><br> Or, what is on the list? Yes, it does. Is a list of careers the only value that career tests offer?<br><br> Are invalid tests harmless? Harmful Effects Counseling research has focused on the © Copyright Career Key, Inc., All Rights Reserved. benefits of valid career measures.<br><br> To conduct a study of the harmfulness of invalid measures would be unethical. Consequently, we will probably never know the extent to which using invalid career measures is harmful. But, from our experience and thoughtful consid- eration, we can make some reasonable assumptions about the impact of invalid career measures.<br><br> Students are likely to vary in their re- sponse to receiving erroneous career test results. For some, it will have little or no impact. But those who are highly motivated are likely to have strong, negative reactions.<br><br> We all know them: the students who are full of anticipa- tion; looking forward to the results; ea- ger to learn about themselves and to explore college majors and careers. Disbelief, confusion, or frustration is what they likely will experience. These negative feelings will be heightened when they are asked to apply the re- sults to a career exploration activity, like identifying the occupations that match their high scores.<br><br> For many stu- dents, invalid results are going to lower their motivation to continue. And, some students may accept the errone- ous results as true and proceed accord- ingly -- exploring occupations or college majors that do not fit them. And, oth- ers may make important decisions based on these incorrect results.<br><br> Those with low self-confidence will be the most vulnerable. But developing a list of good career op- tions to explore -- ones that fit your personality -- is not the only value of a valid career test. A good test gives you insight about yourself.<br><br> It helps answer the question, "Who am I?" What is the impact of giving students an invalid measure telling them they are some- thing they are not? A valid measure of Holland's theory also gives individuals the opportunity to learn about the the- ory and apply it to themselves and the world about them. In the next section, for example, you will read how it can be applied to school counselors' behav- ior.<br><br> But more to the point, students can learn how to apply Holland's the- ory, to understand how their personal- ity interacts with work environments to affect their job satisfaction and suc- cess. Most of these insights are lost if students get invalid test results. Parents, teachers, and others may be- come frustrated in their efforts to help guide students in their development, and their perception of school counsel- ing diminished.<br><br> And, of course, school counselors are at risk of being nega- tively affected. Their effectiveness in implementing their school counseling program may be lowered. Their credi- bility and stature among students, school colleagues, parents and the pub- lic may be put at risk.<br><br> The issue of un- ethical practice is also raised. Lastly, the widespread use of invalid career tests discourages researchers and test developers from developing effective career assessments. Why spend the time (often years) and ex- pense in developing a measure when virtually anyone can create a "career measure" in a few hours time for the Internet?<br><br> Professional Role & Ethical Stan- dards The role and ethical standards for school counselors are clear. According to the ASCA role statement, the profes- sional school counselor is a certified/ licensed educator trained in school counseling with unique qualifications and skills to address all students 9 aca- demic, personal/social and career de- velopment needs. One of those unique qualifications is the counselors' knowl- © Copyright Career Key, Inc., All Rights Reserved.<br><br> edge of psychological assessment. Each has taken a course in test and measurements, or its equivalent, as a basic step in developing your compe- tence as a professional. They are in- structed to " .<br><br> . . consider the validity, reliability, psychometric limitations, and appropriateness of instruments when selecting tests for use in a given situa- tion or with a particular client.<br><br> " (ACA Code of Ethics) and to follow, " . . .<br><br> all professional standards regarding se- lecting, administering and interpreting assessment measures . . ." (ASCA Code of Ethics).<br><br> With the role and standards so clear, why are school counselors not following them? Cost? Unfamiliarity?<br><br> Lack of confidence or training? Holland's theory may shed some light on this. Many counselors most closely resemble the Social-Enterprising per- sonality types -- across the hexagon (and basically opposite) from the In- vestigative type.<br><br> People of the Enter- prising type generally avoid activities that require careful observation and scientific, analytical thinking -- like, a course in tests and measurements. Of- ten, this course is the least popular and most anxiety-provoking among stu- dents in counselor education programs. Upon graduation, there may be a strong temptation to diminish its impor- tance and to avoid further study in the area.<br><br> Regardless of the explanation, most school counselors realize that evaluat- ing tests is their role and responsibility, and it is crucial to students' welfare. They know how important it is to grow professionally in this area and do the hard work of analyzing the claims of test developers. So, just how do you assess whether or not a particular career test is valid?<br><br> Follow these tips: 1. Check for a test manual and how accessible it is. Publishers and websites offering career tests should provide easy access.<br><br> If they do not, be wary. If there is no manual, avoid using the test. 2.<br><br> Look to see if the measure's manual cites research studies published in respected professional journals. If none exists, avoid the measure. 3.<br><br> Beware of career tests that are called something else, like career quiz, profiler, sorter, or finder. If students are being asked to assess their values, interests, abilities, temperaments, or personality -- it is a career test and should meet pro- fessional standards for its validity and reliability. 4.<br><br> Check carefully any career assess- ment to which you link students or parents, via your school website. The public does not have the benefit of your training, knowledge, and ex- perience to judge the merits of ca- reer assessments. They depend on your professional judgment.<br><br> 5. Use your professional analysis and judgment in considering testimoni- als, sales pitches or recommenda- tions, whatever their origins: friends, state or national leaders, respected organizations or compa- nies. This includes industry en- dorsements or certifications; their standards are often vague and de- pend on loose self-assessments of compliance.<br><br> Ask for a professional manual to study. School counselors have the unique and exciting opportunity to make a real dif- ference in the lives of students: to help them learn how to make good career © Copyright Career Key, Inc., All Rights Reserved. decisions, ones that lead to success and satisfaction.<br><br> And, there are a number of excellent Internet-based career tests that can make a solid contribution to this effort. Lawrence K. Jones, Ph.D., NCC, is a professor emeritus in the College of Education at North Carolina State University.<br><br> He specializes in the areas of school counseling and career counseling and development. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Additional Information There is also an article for professional counselors including references to studies and reports.<br><br> The Author Lawrence K. Jones, Ph.D, is the author of The Career Key" measure and website ( www.careerkey.org ), the Self-Employment Key , Occ-U-Sort, and the Career Deci - sion Profile . More than 3 million people used The Career Key worldwide in 2007.<br><br> His books include, The Encyclopedia of Career Change and Work Issues , selected as one of the "Outstanding Reference Sources" by the American Library Association and most recently, Job Skills for the 21st Century, A Guide for Students . A National Certified Counselor, Dr. Jones is a member of the National Career Devel- opment Association, the American School Counselors Association, and the American Counseling Association.<br><br> He has written extensively for professional journals, served on the editorial boards of the Career Development Quarterly and the Journal of Counseling and Development , and was a vocational expert for the Office of Hear- ings and Appeals, Social Security Administration. He received the annual Profes- sional Development award of the American Counseling Association. © Copyright Career Key, Inc., All Rights Reserved.<br><br>