April 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB1

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An Examination of the Relationships Between the Alabama Cooperative Extension System Assessment Center Ratings and Subsequent County Agent-Coordinators' Job Performance Ratings

The objectives of the reported study were to determine the predictability of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) Assessment Center for County Agent-Coordinator (CAC) candidates based on the performance appraisal ratings of CACs for the first 3 years after being promoted to the position. It considered the relationship between individual skill variables and the overall rating received in the Assessment Center. The findings revealed that the Assessment Center did predict CACs' performance at the .05 level of significance. All 12 of the skill variables, with the exception of assertiveness (9.0879 level), were significant in predicting the overall rating. This study confirms the importance of assessment centers as an evaluative and predictive element of the promotion process.

D. Ray Rice
District Extension Coordinator
Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama
Internet Address: drice@acesag.auburn.edu


Extension administrators are faced with developing methods to select individuals for promotion. In Alabama, first-line supervisors or county agent-coordinators (CAC) are generally selected from among county agents within the Extension System. Developing a system that is reliable in helping administrators identify which individuals to select for this critical position is challenging. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES) developed an assessment center as one criterion that helped to determine which individuals would be promoted to the CAC position.

The ACES Assessment Center placed candidates in one of four categories, with candidates in category four being ineligible for promotion. Individuals who were promoted to the CAC position later had their assessment center results compared to their average performance appraisal scores in the CAC position. The performance appraisal scores were the yearly means of five job-related criteria during each of the 3 three years after they had been promoted to the CAC position.

Assessment centers are considered by many to be one of the major new developments in the human resource field in the past 25 years (Ross, 1995). Thousands of public and private institutions have used assessment centers for selection, development, training, and certification purposes (Ross, 1995; Olshfski & Cunningham, 1986). The best assessment centers provide valuable feedback information to the candidates about their strengths and weaknesses.

Assessment centers represent a process whereby several observational techniques are used to evaluate a group of individuals along a number of behavioral dimensions in which one might be expected to perform in the real world. A team of trained assessors observes each individual and makes judgments about their performance in each area. The assessors first score each candidate individually and then meet and form a final collective judgment on each individual's overall score.

The validity of assessment centers has been questioned by some studies, however. Individuals have argued that participation in an assessment center may reinforce the feeling of self-efficacy among candidates. Therefore, according to this argument, the apparent validity of assessment centers is only the consequence of self-fulfilling prophecy (Klimoski & Brickner, 1987). But others who have conducted numerous studies have found the validity of assessment center ratings to be consistent and reliable (Neidig & Neidig, 1984; Schneider & Schmitt, 1992). Sackett and Dreher (1984) contend that content validity is an appropriate means of showing the job relatedness of an assessment center if designed appropriately.

More studies are needed before the validity of assessment centers is resolved. Despite these questions, most believe that properly conducted assessment centers can predict the future performance of individuals. Studies have shown assessment centers to be valid predictors of success. Studies indicate that assessment centers are a tremendous aid in helping the individual candidate to identify weaknesses and remedy them.


In the study reported here, the data were analyzed using quantitative analysis to determine if there was a significant positive relationship between the rating received by individuals who participated in the Assessment Center for CACs and each of their first 3 years' mean rating of their annual performance appraisal in the job of CAC. The analysis determined if singly any of the 12 skill variables significantly influenced the overall rating received by the candidates in the Assessment Center. These skill areas were:

  • Persuasiveness,
  • Oral communication,
  • Written communication,
  • Decision making,
  • Likability,
  • Perception,
  • Planning and organizing,
  • Assertiveness,
  • Adaptability,
  • Collaborativeness,
  • Need for approval, and
  • Leadership.

The data for the analysis were collected from the personnel files of the individuals who participated in the Assessment Center and were selected for the position of CAC. The annual performance ratings were obtained from their Associate Director-Human Resources. The statistics were computed using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS-X).

Purpose and Objectives of the Study

Two objectives of the study were as follows.

  • Objective 1: To determine if certain skills examined in the Assessment Center are more predictive than others of an overall assessment center rating, singly or in combination.
  • Objective 2: To determine if the overall Assessment Center ratings are predictive of administrative performance for any of the first 3 years after appointment to the CAC position, based on the administrative portion of the annual performance appraisal ratings.

Data-Collection Method

Data were collected through the use of personnel records of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. This was accomplished by obtaining individual ratings received in each of the 12 skill areas plus the overall ratings received by 51 individuals who had participated in the Alabama Cooperative Extension System Assessment Center for CACs.

Only the portion of their annual performance appraisal ratings directly relating to administrative skills was examined for the first 3 years following their appointment to the CAC position. The administrative skills assessed were:

  • Planning and organizing,
  • Personnel and staff development,
  • Personnel management and staff development for academic staff,
  • Leadership and directing, and
  • Reporting and evaluation.

Data Collected and Results

Data were examined on the 51 individuals who participated in the Assessment Center and had been promoted to the CAC position as a consequence. Predictions of overall performance were represented on a four-point scale: 1 = should exceed normal expectations, 2 = should meet normal expectations, 3 = meeting normal expectations is questionable, and 4 = presently does not possess knowledge and skills needed to successfully perform the duties of CAC.

Individuals who received a rating of 4 were not a part of the study because no individual with this rating was promoted. Seven (13.7%) of the individuals received a rating of one, 27 (52.9%) of the individuals received a rating of two, and 17 (33.3%) of the individuals received a rating of three in the ACES Assessment Center for CACs.

As may be seen in Table 1, 11 of the 12 individual skill variable ratings in the Assessment Center were significant (at .05 level) in predicting the overall assessment center rating. Assertiveness T was 1.742 with a significance of T at .0879.

Table 1
Individual Skill Variable Rating as Related to Assessment Center Ratings

Skill Variable T Significance of T
Persuasiveness 7.351 .0000
Oral Communication 3.813 .0004
Likability 3.496 .0010
Planning and Organizing 3.206 .0024
Perception 3.104 .0032
Collaborativeness 2.820 .0070
Written Communication 2.729 .0089
Decision Making 2.629 .0115
Leadership 2.585 .0128
Need for Approval 2.348 .0231
Adaptability 2.298 .0260
Assertiveness 1.742 .0879

Table 2 shows that there was a statistically significant relationship between performance appraisal ratings following the first year's performance of CACs and the overall performance ratings they received from Assessment Center raters. There was almost a statistically significant relationship with the second year's performance, but there was no significant relationship with the third year's performance appraisal and the overall rating received from the Assessment Center.

Table 2
Performance Appraisal Rating as Related to Assessment Center Ratings

Year F Significance of F Frequency
1 4.238 .025 51
2 3.193 .056 51
3 .721 .495 51


The data from this study does indicate that the ACES Assessment Center has successfully predicted the administrative performance of these CACs. This is supported by the annual performance appraisal process used by ACES during the first year (at .05 Level), and during the second year (at .056), after appointment to the CAC position.

In the third year there was no significant difference between those who had earlier received a rating of one, the highest rating, and those who received a rating of three, the lowest rating. The results may have been influenced by the fact that those who received a rating of two or three were required to take university classes in the skill areas of weakness identified by the Assessment Center. These classes, along with other effects of on-the-job training received during the first 2 years, may have strengthened individual performance ratings sufficiently to bring them up to the same level as those who received a rating of one when participating in the Assessment Center.

When the 12 variables were analyzed separately, individuals who received higher scores in 11 of the 12 variables consistently received higher overall ratings for the Assessment Center. When investigating the strength of these variables, all were significant at the .05 level, with the exception of assertiveness, significant at the .0804 level. The leadership style promoted by ACES is more one of teamwork than of single-minded leadership. It is, therefore, very probable that assessors view the assertive individual as one who could expect problems in a team environment.

In summary, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System Assessment Center for CACs did predict the performance levels of individuals as measured by their annual performance appraisal during the first year after promotion, significantly predicted the second year, but did not predict performance for the third year after promotion. Eleven of the twelve variables in the Assessment Center did predict the overall score received by the participants in the study.

More studies are needed to determine if these results are being duplicated by other assessment centers. Assessment centers should be used along with other indicators in making the final selection for any position. There was no significant difference in performance appraisal scores of CACs after the second year. One could conclude that the skills identified by the Assessment Center, and subsequent classes taken, were needed by the individuals to perform the administrative tasks of the CAC position. Therefore, it could be said that assessment centers are an excellent way to help identify skills that are weak and the work required to overcome those weaknesses, and thus preparing candidates for future leadership roles. This alone makes assessment centers an excellent tool for administrators to use in selecting first-line supervisors and preparing others for future career opportunities.


Klimoski, R., & Brickner, M. (1987). Why do assessment centers work? The puzzle of assessment center validity. Personnel Psychology, 30, 243-260.

Neidig, R. D., & Neidig, P. J. (1984). Multiple assessment center exercises and job relatedness. Journal of Applied Psychology, 69. (1), 182-186.

Olshfski, D. F., & Cunningham, R. B. (1986). Establishing assessment center validity: An examination of methodological and theoretical issues. Public Personnel Management, 15(1), 85-96.

Sackett, P. R., & Dreher, G. F. (1984). Constructs and assessment center dimensions: Some troubling empirical findings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 67(4), 401-410.

Schneider, J. R., & Schmitt, N. (1992). An exercise design approach to understanding assessment center dimension and exercise constructs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 77(1), 32-41.