A regular feature of our program is the evaluation, by participants, of the testing and group workshops. Their feedback has proven invaluable and these evaluations, in conjunction with a survey of two of our recent assessment groups, provide the foundation for this article.
Participant Feedback on Testing
Participants reported having a range of expectations regarding the testing. Some had no idea what to expect while others expected that test results would provide the basis for acceptance to our computer training program. Most reported that they expected the testing to be more difficult than it was. This last point is more easily understood given participants' frame of reference for the word "test." Many associated "test" with anxiety, panic, need for preparation, and strong concern with performance and results. Old fears about school were aroused and it was generally agreed that prior school performance would influence how one feels about testing in general.
Many participants felt that the vocational testing opened their eyes and was helpful in providing career direction and options. The testing for interest inventories was relaxed and positive, while the timed ability testing was "anxiety-provoking" and a source of stress for almost everyone. The timed situation led to a preoccupation with time and subsequent lack of concentration which produced feelings of frustration.
Different experiences were reported for the math and English testing. Participants felt pressure to perform well, realizing that certain academic levels would provide access to training and possibly place them closer to their goals. Many were also curious about their current academic level and felt a personal need to perform well. Those with an ESL background found the vocabulary testing difficult, stating that the words were unfamiliar.
A major concern identified by participants in testing for the assessment program was having been away from school for several years. For some this raised the fear of "being stupid," failing the educational achievement test and not being suited to any type of employment. Many said their absence from school made recall of math and English concepts difficult, and some mentioned not having learned "new math" concepts which they felt affected their test results.
Participants receiving social assistance remarked that attending the program significantly altered their lifestyle; that it took effort to adjust to a new schedule involving a curriculum of intensive testing and workshops. Although they felt "mentally challenged," adjusting to a new environment was tiring and affected their concentration. Juggling roles while attending the program was difficult, and those with young children mentioned being distracted at times by thoughts of their children and preoccupied by concerns about childcare arrangements for the duration of the program and in the future.
As mentioned earlier, participants with ESL background felt the effect of having to use an unfamiliar language; they did not always understand the vocabulary associated with the testing and sometimes interpreted words differently, attaching meanings that may have been culturally derived. Making decisions, whether about training options or what direction to pursue, was also identified as influenced by culture to the extent that decisions are often made in conjunction with family members and not by a participant independently.
Other testing concerns that were identified related more personally to the participants. Some disclosed how low self-esteem, internalized negative messages, lack of confidence and poor concentration had a bearing on their state of mind during testing. A few participants were frank in admitting how difficult it is to feel confident when hearing non-supportive comments from family members and partners. Some expressed their fear of "failing" a test or not measuring up when compared to others. Still others worried that they might not interpret the questions properly or finish on time. A lack of formal education undermined participants' confidence in their skills and abilities and, in some cases, seemed also to feed into low self-esteem.
Benefits that were seen to result from testing included results that either confirmed already established decisions about work or generated new options. Women reported that the testing stimulated their thinking and that they linked the information they gained to the outside world by way of job exploration and goal setting. Women were also able to identify areas of strength and skill and weaknesses that might benefit from further development. All women mentioned that positive testing outcomes resulted in increased confidence and self-esteem, a sense of capability and optimism.