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Employment testing of persons with specific learning disabilities.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (P.L. 101-36) and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act (P.L. 93-112) obligate nearly all U.S. employers to consider making test accommodations to job applicants with disabilities. Inferences about a person's ability to perform, made from a nonstandardized test administration, however, may or may not reflect an accurate appraisal of his or her abilities. An accurate appraisal of a person's ability to perform a job could result in dissatisfaction of both employee and employer. Yet, to not allow persons with a disability a test accommodation is to deny them equal opportunity to prove they are qualified for the job. Therefore, professionals assisting clients with job placement need to fully understand the positive and negative implications of requesting testing accommodations. It will be shown later that a newer concept in psychometric theory, known as validity generalization, testing for general abilities rather than specific job aptitudes, may be a one alternative to modifying standardized tests. A focus on adults with specific learning disabilities (SLD) is needed as there have been a number of studies on employment-related testing of persons with either mental retardation, sensory disabilities, or physical disabilities (Botterbush & Droege, 1972; Botterbush & Michael, 1985; Carbuhn & Wells, 1973; Cautilli & Bauman, 1987; Droege, 1987; Hull & Halloran, 1976; Levine, 1987; Lofquist, Dawis, & Weiss, 1970; Sherman & Robinson, 1982), while few have addressed persons with SLD (Heaton, Nelson, & Nester, 1980; Hursh, 1984; Nester, 1984). A definition of SLD begins discussion of the regulatory, legal, and technical considerations to guide test use with this population.

SLD Defined

Persons formally diagnosed as having SLD are thought by many experts to have problems with the ways in which they process information (Duane, 1979; Stanovich, 1988; Swanson, 1988; Torgesen, 1988). These processing problems have been correlated with the occurrence of below-average achievement in reading, arithmetic, or written language performance. Warner et al. believe that cognitive processing difficulties diminish academic achievement because "success on tasks requiring deliberate memorization |as most early school learning tasks do~ partially depends on the ability to exert appropriate executive control during the learning session" (Warner, Schumaker, Alley, & Desherler, 1989, p. 107). They define the executive function as "that part of the information-processing system that regulates and sequences specific (subordinate) control processes" (p. 108). Deficiencies in executive control "are increasingly being implicated in mildly handicapped students' |such as SLD~ failure to transfer and to generalize what they have learned" (p. 107). While persons with SLD have been able to narrow their academic deficiencies over time (Bruck, 1985; Hartzell & Compton, 1984), there is no evidence to suggest that their cognitive difficulties disappear with time (Johnson & Blalock, 1987; Rogan & Hartman, 1976; Spreen, 1984). It is these SLD identified children and adolescents--as adults--that can be at a distinct disadvantage when taking examinations that require recall and processing information for problem solving in a limited time situation. Thus far, test accommodations for adults with SLD, in college admission testing situations, have primarily been extra time, assistance in deciphering the verbal directions of a test, and assistance in recording test-item responses (Bennett, Rock, & Kaplan, 1985; Gerber, 1985; Willingham et al. 1988).

Employment Tests

Employment tests are standardized, objective, and validated examinations based on analysis of a specific job in a specific setting (Hale, 1982). It is generally accepted among most employment personnel professionals that a business can increase productivity by significant dollar amounts through using valid tests to select workers (Schultz, 1985). In a survey of over 300 organizations Blocklyn (1988) found that close to 50% of employers used some type of written employment test. The joint AERA/APA/NCME Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (1985) affirms that "competent test use can make significant and demonstrable contributions to productivity and to fair treatment of individuals in employment settings" (p. 59).

The predictive validity of tests used for persons with disabilities was a major concern of a National Academy of Science (NAS) panel convened in 1979 by the National Research Council (NRC). The NAS panel's concern was that current psychometric theory and practice would not allow full compliance with the testing regulations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Sherman & Robinson, 1982). Section 504 regulations were written under the assumption that (1) persons with disabilities can be tested in such a way that their scores do not reflect the effects of their disability and (2) resulting test scores, when provided reasonable accommodations, are comparable to those of nonhandicapped persons (Sherman & Robinson, 1982). However, as the NAS panel noted, "The major barrier to comparable employment testing of handicapped people cited by several large corporations is the fact that most of the tests they use are speeded. If extra time is allowed, the meaning of results obtained under nonstandard conditions is unknown" (Sherman & Robinson, 1982, p. 58). To correct deficiencies in test score comparability, the NAS panel recommended immediately conducting research to develop "modified tests to meet the needs of people with sensory and motor handicaps and to perform predictive validation studies on these tests" (Sherman & Robinson, 1982, p. 2). The Educational Testing Service undertook research specifically addressing the NAS recommendations for college admissions testing (Willingham et al., 1988), but did not study score comparability in employment.

Validity Generalization and Job Testing

Research conducted on the predictive validity of employment tests before 1975 led to the belief that test developers had to validate tests for each new job and employment location (Ghiselli, 1966, 1973). However, research known as the "validity generalization hypothesis" (VG) has challenged the necessity of conducting validity studies for every job description (Schmidt & Hunter, 1977, 1981). A central tenet of VG is that general cognitive ability predicts performance on all types of jobs as well or better than specific occupational aptitude tests (Hunter, 1986; Schmidt, 1986). Moreover, the theory holds that "validities estimated for some jobs may be reasonably expected to hold for similar jobs not studied" (Hartigan & Wigdor, 1989, p. 281). With acceptance of the VG concept employers, who want to minimize expense while protecting against litigation for using a poorly validated test for hiring, are more likely to use tests in their employment selection process.

Federal Employment Testing Regulations

Title I of ADA

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (P.L. 101-336), which mirrors Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, prohibits discrimination in employment against an individual with a disability who is "qualified," that is, can perform the "essential functions" of a job with or without reasonable accommodations. Statute 332 of ADA's Title I mandates that "no covered entity shall discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability because of the disability of such individual in regard to job application procedures, the hiring, advancement or discharge of employees, employee compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment". This mandate also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations when considering qualified individuals with disabilities for employment and includes "making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities; and job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, acquisition or modification of examinations, training materials or policies, the provision of qualified readers or interpreters, and other similar accommodations."

General Rule 102 of Title I further specifies that employers cannot use employment tests or selection criteria that screen out applicants with disabilities unless such tests or criteria are job-related. For example, an employment test developed to assess reading speed and comprehension for a job as a magazine copy editor is obviously job-related. However, use of the same test to evaluate a person with a reading disability for a job in magazine subscription sales may not be job-related as the essential duties would be conversing, not reading or editing. The Federal Register (Volume 56, No. 144, July 26, 1991) published the final rules on Title I of ADA under Section 1630.11, "Administration of Tests." They offered the following explanation of reasonable accommodation in testing:

The employer or other covered entity is, generally, only required to provide such reasonable accommodation if it knows, prior to the administration of the test, that the individual is disabled and that the disability impairs sensory, manual or speaking skills. Thus, for example, it would be unlawful to administer a written employment test to an individual who has informed the employer, prior to the administration of the test, that he is disabled with dyslexia and unable to read. In such a case, as a reasonable accommodation and in accordance with this provision, an alternative oral test should be administered to that individual... (p. 35749).

Other alternative testing procedures include the use of readers and large print material. Section 1630.11 cites the following example:

Where it is not possible to test in an alternative format, the employer may be required, as a reasonable accommodation, to evaluate the skill to be tested in another manner (e.g. through an interview, or through education license, or work experience requirements). An employer may also be required, as a reasonable accommodation, to allow more time to complete the test (p. 35750).

Section 1630.11 also defines the limitations of reasonable accommodation:

This provision does not apply to employment tests that require the use of sensory, manual, or speaking skills where the tests are intended to measure those skills. Thus, an employer could require that an applicant with dyslexia take a written test for a particular position if the ability to read is the skill the test is designed to measure. Similarly, an employer could require that an applicant complete a test within established time frames if speed were one of the skills for which the applicant was being tested. However, the results of such a test could not be used to exclude an individual with a disability unless the skill was necessary to perform an essential function of the position and no reasonable accommodation was available to enable the individual to perform that function, or the necessary accommodation would impose an undue hardship (p. 35750).

Title III of ADA: Public Accommodations

Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 309, Examinations and Courses specifies that "any person who offers examinations of courses related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes shall offer such examinations or courses in a place and manner accessible to persons with disabilities or offer alternative accessible arrangements for such individuals" (P.L. 101-336, 1990, Statute 365). As stated in the Federal Register (Volume 56, No. 144, July 26, 1991), Section 309 was written to "fill the gap" created when certain licensing certification and other testing authorities are not covered by Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act or Title II (Public Services) of ADA. The "gap" referred to is those licensing, testing, and certification agencies that do not receive federal money or are not covered by Title II of ADA because they are not state or local agencies. Examinations covered by this above provision would include a bar exam or the Scholastic Aptitude Test (Educational Testing Services, 1991). In fact, Section 309 "applies to any private entity that offers specified examinations or courses." For a more extensive review on administering bar exams to persons with disabilities, see Gerber (1986, 1987, 1988). A major provision in Section 309 of Title III requires the use of auxiliary aids and/or services, "unless the private entity offering the examination can demonstrate that offering a particular auxiliary aid would fundamentally alter the examination or result in undue burden" (p. 35573). The Final Rule highlights the following example in the comment section on Title III:

Examples of auxiliary aids include taped examinations, interpreters, or other effective methods of making orally delivered materials available to individuals with hearing impairments, readers for individuals with visual impairment or learning disabilities, and other similar services and actions. The suggestion that individuals with learning disabilities may need readers is included, although it does not appear in the Department of Education regulation because, in fact, some individuals with learning disabilities have visual perception problems and would benefit from a reader (p. 35573).

Section 309 requires that any private entity offering educational courses must (1) make such accommodations to ensure that the location and manner in which the courses are given are accessible and (2) offer modifications that could include changes in the length of time permitted for the completion of the

course, substitution of specific requirements or adaptation of the manner in which the course is conducted or course materials are distributed. While these Title I and II regulations represent a major inroad to increasing employment opportunities for persons with disabilities, they also reintroduce a dilemma presented when lawmakers passed Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act (P.L. 93-112). These regulations and examples must endure legal scrutiny as did Section 504 at its introduction (Stuhlbarg, 1991).

Legal Decisions

Stutts v. Freeman

The court case of Stutts v. Freeman represents an important judicial interpretation of the testing provisions in Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and as such also is applicable to ADA. In 1971 the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) employed Joseph Stutts as a temporary laborer. Stutts had a reading disability but did not reveal this to TVA when he first applied for a part-time opening. In 1973 Stutts was hired as a permanent full-time employee and in 1979 he applied for one of TVA's apprenticeship programs for heavy equipment operator training. He was denied this position on the basis of earning a low score on the U.S. Department of Labor's General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB). After TVA informed Stutts of his unsuccessful test performance, Stutts made his own arrangements to take a nonwritten ability test-a test which showed Stutts to be above average in intelligence and capable of learning to operate heavy equipment. In responding to Stutts' charge of discrimination, TVA made a request to obtain his test results to further assess their decision but were unable to do so. In the following trial both parties agreed that the GATB could not accurately reflect Stutts' potential for completing the apprenticeship program. TVA's legal representation, however, felt they had made a reasonable effort to obtain alternative test information, which included a request that a local U.S. Employment Services (USES) office give Stutts an oral GATB. USES refused on the basis that the modification could invalidate the GATB results. In the first hearing of the Stutts case a federal district court sided with TVA, ruling that Stutts failed to show that he had similar qualifications as the nonhandicapped applicants hired for the apprenticeship program. On appeal, a circuit court ruled that the district court erred in their decision by allowing TVA to rely on GATB test results for its rejection of Stutts and in so doing did not make "reasonable accommodation" in evaluating his ability. The case was thus remanded back to the lower court to settle the accommodation issue.

Wynne v. Tufts University

In the case of Wynne v. Tufts University Medical School there existed a dispute over the right of an academic institution to require the evaluation of student performance using a certain type of instrument (multiple choice tests) v. the right of a student diagnosed as having a cognitive processing limitation to an alternative assessment measure. Steven Wynne entered Tufts Medical School in the Fall of 1983 but was only able to pass half of his first-year courses. Tufts academic rules stipulated dismissal after five course failures but Wynne was allowed to stay in school after neuropsychological testing revealed that Wynne possessed limitations in the ability to process discrete units of information. At this time Tufts arranged to provide Wynne with academic support services such as tutors, notetakers, etc. and Wynne was able to pass all but two of his first-year courses. Make-up exams were given in each of the two failed courses, but Wynne failed one of them and was then dismissed from school. Wynne decided to challenge this decision in the courts on the basis that he had been discriminated against because of his cognitive disability and that impairment put him at a disadvantage in performing on multiple choice examinations. Tufts' lawyers told a district court that problems in taking multiple choice exams indicate an inability to process complex information, which prevented Wynne from passing his courses. A district court ruled in Tufts' favor on the grounds that Wynne was not an otherwise qualified person within the definition of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. See Scott (1990) for a review of this issue with respect to persons with learning disabilities.

A U.S. Court of Appeals reversed this district court's decision, stating that the alleged discrimination stems not from the particular skill required--the ability to work with complex data--but from the method by which Tufts measures that ability. The Court of Appeals further stated that Tufts failed to show evidence that changing their testing method would be a fundamental alteration of their medical program. They concluded, in part, that Tufts had offered no evidence explaining why multiple choice exams, as distinguished from all other forms of written examinations, tested a student's ability to assimilate, interpret, and analyze complex written material. In particular, the court found it hard to understand why essay examinations would not meet the same objective. Tufts' lawyers argued that the ability to correctly respond to multiple choice exams was an important skill because doctors must quickly read and analyze charts and reference materials.

Unfortunately for Wynne, the Court of Appeals, while citing a failure by Tufts to meet a rigid review for determining whether they (Tufts) adequately explored the full array of reasonable accommodations for Wynne, on an appeal by Tuft's, vacated their earlier judgement and remanded for further proceedings, allowing the District Court freedom to consider additional facts. See Hurley (1991) for a review of "reasonable accommodation" with regard to persons with learning disabilities. This is exactly what Tufts did, utilizing new affidavits as to why multiple choice exams are necessary. The District Court then heard arguments from both Wynne and Tufts and concluded that Tufts had met its burden in making reasonable accommodation on behalf of Wynne. Wynne appealed this decision again to the Court of Appeals (U.S. Court of Appeals, 1992).

The Court of Appeals reviewed the record of the District Court and stated full satisfaction with their interpretation, for the following four reasons. The first three indicate that Tufts met the standard of reasonable accommodation, according to the Court of Appeals. First, Tufts, in its new affidavit documented why multiple choice exams are important to the integrity of their medical program. On this point however, the Court of Appeals did note that Tufts' argument was not entirely ironclad, as evidence was produced showing that there are other medical schools which permit oral administration of multiple choice exams. Second, Tufts offered an adequate array of services to meet the requirement of reasonable accommodation, even though it did not permit an untimed oral administration of one of Wynne's exams. Third, Wynne did not raise the issue of his disability until after he failed his courses and never asked for untimed oral test administration until after his dismissal from school. And fourth, Wynne's claim that the pretext of Tufts' insistence on the use of standard multiple choice exams was suspect is not supported by fact and more evidence would be required to forestall the summary judgement in favor of Tufts made by the District Court.

Professional Standards for Testing

With the limited case law on testing persons with SLD, it is important that rehabilitation counselors and employers be aware of the professional standards which govern employment-related testing. There are at least four important sources of professional standards impacting the testing of persons with SLD. The first is the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (1985), which represents the position of three major professional associations concerned with educational and employment testing. A second source comes from the Vocational Evaluation section in the Standards Manual for Organizations Serving People with Disabilities (1990), issued by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). A third source of information is a final report issued by a National Academy of Science (NAS) committee which examined VG methodology for making job referrals (Hartigan & Wigdor, 1989). The fourth source comes from the report, Testing Handicapped People (Willingham et al., 1988), sponsored by the College Board, the Educational Testing Service, and the Graduate Record Examinations Board, in response to the research challenges made by the NAS Panel on Testing Handicapped People (Sherman & Robinson, 1982).

Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (SEPT)

The publication of SEPT in 1985 represents the joint efforts of the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Council on Measurement in Education to "provide criteria for the evaluation of tests, testing practices, and the effects of test use" (p. 3). In a separate chapter devoted to standards for testing persons with disabilities, the SEPT authors summarized their views on making test modifications by stating that there are "a number of modifications of tests and test administration procedures that make it possible for people with certain handicapping conditions to take tests developed originally for the general population" (p. 77). But as a caution in making such modifications, they also note that "all relevant individual standards given elsewhere in this document are fully applicable to the testing applications considered in this chapter." The SEPT authors concluded that "unless it has been demonstrated that the psychometric properties of a test, or type of test, are not altered significantly by some modification, the claims made for the test by its author or publisher cannot be generalized to the modified version (p. 77). So, while not ruling out the possibility of being able to make test modifications, the SEPT recommendations clearly warn against disregarding test standards when making such a modification. In reference to persons with cognitive disabilities, the SEPT authors question whether any kind of test modification would result in measurement of the same constructs. Moreover, the SEPT authors noted, medium of expression, which test users could modify, is likely to affect cognitive functioning and the meaning of test responses.

Standards Manual for Organizations Serving People with Disabilities

Within the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities' (CARF) 1990 Standards Manual for Organizations Serving People with Disabilities are guidelines for rehabilitation agencies engaging in vocational evaluation of clients (pp. 70-72). CARF defines vocational evaluation as "a comprehensive process that systematically utilizes work, either real or simulated, as the focal point for assessment and exploration, the purpose of which is to assist the person in vocational development" (p. 70). Job-related characteristics to be assessed under CARF guidelines include intellectual capacities, educational achievement, and aptitudes. In administering either of these kinds of tests "where a person's disability may invalidate otherwise standardized procedures," the primary CARF standard deems that "appropriate adaptive assessment tools and methods should be used" (p. 71). No mention is made as to the validity of the tests given with an accommodation.

National Academy of Science (NAS)

The NAS was commissioned by the Department of Labor to evaluate the United States Employment Services (USES) combining validity generalization and the GATB for equal treatment of special populations. The U.S. Department of Justice questioned the legality of a system which weighted percentile ranks to raise overall scores of minority groups who had a history of lower scores on standardized tests (Wigdor & Hartigan, 1988). As part of its report the NAS Committee also offered a definitive statement on employment testing for persons with disabilities:

When tests are modified to accommodate visual, hearing, motor, or other handicaps, questions are raised about the comparability of the modified and regular instruments and about the meaning of the resulting scores. Even in the best of circumstance, very few data exist to answer these questions empirically; for the GATB, the research base is meager when it exists at all. Special administrations are offered for people with hearing problems, but the test has not been modified for people with visual handicaps. Extreme caution is clearly required in interpreting results from special administrations or regular administrations to people with handicapping conditions (Hartigan & Wigdor, 1989, p. 288).

The NAS committee further recommended that persons with disabilities served by USES not be solely processed by the GATB system but continue to be assisted by a job counselor who has regular access to the daily flow of job orders (Hartigan & Wigdor, 1989). The NAS committee also recommended that "To ensure that handicapped applicants who can compete with tested applicants are given that opportunity, the GATB should be used when feasible to assess the abilities of handicapped applicants. The test should be used to supplement decision making, not to take the place of counseling services" (Hartigan & Wigdor, 1989, pp. 288-289).

College Testing Research

Willingham et al. (1988) reported in Testing Handicapped People the results of a series of studies conducted on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), pertaining to test validity and test use for examinees with disabilities. Four types of disability groups were studied; hearing, visual, physical, and learning. According to Willingham et al., during 1980-1983 the number of students registering to take the SAT under special conditions increased by more than 80%, with a large part of that increase consisting of examinees with SLD. In responding to the increasing number of persons with disabilities taking college admission tests, as well as to legal mandates, test administrators are required to provide an instrument that eliminates sources of difficulty irrelevant to the skills and knowledge the test is designed to measure, while retaining the comparability of the test to nondisabled persons. For example, special administrations of the SAT are offered in formats of regular and large type, braille, and audio cassette. Accommodations may include extra space, extra rest periods, test readers, sign language interpreters for test instructions, and extra time. In 1985 the College Board permitted examinees with SLD to take the regular version of the SAT with up to ninety minutes extra time (College Entrance Examination Board, 1985).

A most notable finding in Testing Handicapped People was that examinees with SLD were more likely than any other disability group to have their freshman year performance over-predicted by their admission test scores when allowed extra time to take the test. This finding seems logical in as much as college support services for students with SLD--notetakers, tutors, extended time for exams, books on tape, and reduction of credit hours taken per term--did not become widespread until the mid-1980's. On the other hand, discrepancies between a person's estimated ability and level of academic achievement are considered characteristic of persons with SLD (Biller & White, 1989). Moreover, SAT examinees with SLD were the only disability group to have SAT scores considerably disproportionate (higher) to their high school grades (Willingham et al., 1988). In stun, the results of taking the SAT under extra conditions by persons with SLD indicate that the test may not be comparable to the results of the SAT taken by nonhandicapped examinees. Thus, persons with SLD who take the SAT with extra time will continue to have their test results specially marked so as to reveal to the receiving college that the scores may not be comparable to other applicants. This special marking or "flagging" of scores also reveals to the college that this person has a disability--an apparent infringement of the student's rights under Section 504 (Sherman & Robinson, 1982). Therefore, the dilemma of maintaining confidentiality of the test taker's disability status versus flagging a test to communicate that it is a nonstandard version, an issue the NAS committee hoped would be clarified by conducting predictive validity studies, is not totally resolved.

In studying test score comparability of persons with SLD with those of persons with physical and sensory disabilities, Willingham et al. concluded that reading may not pose as much of a problem among populations with SLD as might be expected. They noted that SLD groups had higher average scores on the verbal than on the arithmetic section of the test. In a special analysis of arithmetic items ranked according to reading requirements Willingham et al. reported that Bennett, Rock, & Kaplan (1985) found no evidence that more reading in an arithmetic problem made it more difficult for persons with SLD to complete. Given their evidence that examinees with SLD who receive extra time are not achieving up to their SAT score predictions and do not appear to be severely disadvantaged by the test's reading requirements, Willingham et al. have recommended "that testing programs need to reevaluate their policies regarding extended time for LD students, especially as to how much time should be allowed and whether it is possible to improve present practices concerning eligibility for the nonstandard examination" (p. 169).

In a different setting, but also rooted in the validity issue of allowing extra time for persons with SLD, Runyan (1991) examined the effect of extra time on reading comprehension scores for university students with and without identified learning disabilities. Studying 15 students identified as SLD and 15 normally achieving students, Runyan found "a significant difference between scores obtained by students with learning disabilities and by normally achieving students under timed conditions and found that there were no significant differences in test performance between students with learning disabilities and normally achieving university students when students with learning disabilities are provided extra time" (p. 104). The essence of the finding, states Runyan, is that "normally achieving students often perform up to their capability under timed testing conditions and have little room for improvement. Students with learning disabilities often cannot perform up to their capabilities under timed conditions and show considerable improvement when allowed extra time" (p. 107).

Employment Certification Testing

Research issues related to public accommodations in administering examinations and courses, as described in the final rules of ADA's Title III, have not received the attention that college entrance testing has. Gerber (1986, 1987, 1988) has undertaken the most comprehensive look at this issue, primarily in the areas of graduate school admissions and the law profession's bar exam. He initially found that of the 31 out of 52 state bar associations that participated in his study, 89.7% did provide some type of accommodation for the exam. Gerber noted, however, that there was a lack of standard practice both among and within states. Gerber also noted that of the 31 bar associations participating, 19.3% had a formally stated policy on testing persons with disabilities.

Summary, Recommendations and Conclusions

Persons who have had a history of learning disabilities due to cognitive processing impairment are likely to be at a disadvantage when taking standardized employment tests. The cognitive impairment itself can impede the ability to organize, process, and record information required in an employment qualification test. If the test is timed it can put additional pressure on the examinee's processing abilities which further decreases their efficiency. Many of these individuals also have severe deficits in reading ability which call for accommodations beyond the extra time provision. The use of employment tests is on the rise among U.S. employers, increasing the likelihood that persons with SLD will face more testing situations than in the past. The federal statutes within Section 504 and Title I of ADA affirm the right of persons with disabilities to demonstrate their abilities for employment without prejudice toward their impairment. A number of professional organizations concerned with test usage have addressed the needs of persons with disabilities. They support modifying tests for persons with disabilities but only if the modification does not significantly alter validity of the test. Research undertaken since passage of Section 504 to resolve the conflict between testing fairness and testing accuracy revealed that extra time modifications on college admission tests overpredict college grades of examinees with SLD but not of other disability groups. This research also found that test takers with SLD were not at a disadvantage because of reading or computational demands of the tests. In a different study with a small sample of college students with SLD, it was found that extra time on a reading comprehension test improved the reading performance of college students with SLD but not of those in a nonhandicapped comparison group.

A fundamental issue of these studies is score comparability. If test administrators modify a test validated for a nonhandicapped population for persons with SLD, it is uncertain if those scores are comparable to those of the population for whom the test was standardized. The primary issue is, then, whether or not inferences drawn from these modified tests will accurately predict future performance. The data from large numbers of college admission test takers with SLD indicate they might not be an accurate assessment. Given the increasing number of persons with SLD entering college, on-going research is necessary and should address the score comparability issue.

Attempting such research among private sector employers will be a vastly different challenge, however. Employers use many different kinds of tests, as compared to the two used universally for college admissions. To be consistent with federal statutes employers will need to use tests that measure outcomes representing the essential duties of the job they are offering. In the past this required a standardization study for each job and job location. Under the concept of validity generalization this individual validation effort would not be necessary, making validation of modified employment tests a possibility. VG has been accepted by some employers as an alternative to requiring to a test standardization study for each new employment classification. Under VG, employers could use one general ability test to cover all job classifications. Research by Schmidt and Hunter (1979, 1981) indicates that performance in nearly all types of employment should be predictable on the basis of a vocabulary test an arithmetic test, and a test of three-dimensional spatial patterns. Each of these are power tests rather than speeded tests, eliminating the need for extra time, the most common SLD test accommodation, but also the most problematic for maintaining score compatibility.

Ernest F. Biller, Associate Professor of Education, Department of Vocational and Technical Education, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83843.


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Author:Biller, Ernest F.
Publication:The Journal of Rehabilitation
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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