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University
of
Minnesota,
Twin
Cities,
USA


School
of
Social
Work

SW
8602
Direct
Practice
Evaluation

Jane
F.
Gilgun,
Ph.D.,
LICSW

December
2009


Choosing
Assessment
and
Evaluation
Tools
for
Direct
Practice




 Assessment
and
evaluation
tools
can
contribute
to
practice
effectiveness
if
social


service
professionals
choose
them
well.

In
this
essay
I
provide
guidelines
for
choosing


tools
for
practice.
The
first
section
discusses
standardized
instruments;
that
is,
instruments


that
have
known
psychometric
properties
of
reliability
and
validity.

The
second
section
is


on
instruments
that
practitioners
construct
themselves
or
that
they
help
clients
construct.



The
third
section
is
brief
but
points
out
some
of
the
complicated
issues
involved
in


practitioner
use
of
instruments.
In
the
discussion,
I
state
the
importance
of
practitioner


involvement
in
the
development,
use,
and
modification
of
any
tools
that
agencies
may


require
and
also
point
out
that
funders
prefer
to
sponsor
programs
that
demonstrate


effectiveness.


Are
they
Useful?



 Usefulness
is
the
most
important
question
to
ask
about
practice
tools.

If
you
use


these
tools,
will
they
help
you
do
your
job
better?

Tools
that
are
useful
have
the
following


characteristics.

I’ve
arranged
them
in
rough
order
of
importance
for
social
work
practice.


• They
have
good
face
validity.

Face
validity
is
the
most
important
validity
in


assessment
and
evaluation
tools.
Face
validity
means
that
when
knowledgeable


professionals
read
the
tools,
they
find
that
the
tools
cover
important
areas
of


practice.


• They
have
good
content
validity.
Content
validity
is
an
estimate
of
whether

Gilgun letter
Page 2 of 9
instruments
cover
relevant
areas.

It
is
similar
to
face
validity
in
that
experts
decide


whether
tools
have
adequate
coverage.
There
is
no
index
for
content
validity.


Drawing
upon
multiple
sources
of
data
helps
to
ensure
content
validity.

In
social


work
and
other
applied
disciplines,
content
validity
is
more
likely
when
the
sources


of
items
are
research,
theory,
and
practice
wisdom
that
draws
upon
direct


experience
with
clients
and
their
issues.
Sometimes
representatives
of
client
groups


contribute
to
the
ideas
and
items
of
a
tool.
Item
total
analysis
often
helps
streamline


instruments
because
it
helps
to
eliminate
items
that
quantitative
analysis
shows
are


unrelated
to
other
items
in
the
tool.

In
item
total
analysis,
the
score
on
each
item
is


correlated
with
the
total
score.

Items
with
very
low
correlations
are
eliminated.

If


many
items
have
high
correlations—above
.9—tool
developers
then
inspect
these


items
for
redundancy
and
eliminate
those
that
duplicate
others.


o They
are
culturally
sensitive.
Instruments
that
are
useful
draw
upon


information
that
is
culturally
sensitive.

Practitioners
can
check
for
cultural


sensitivity
by
finding
information
about
the
samples
on
which
instrument


developers
draw
for
the
ideas
and
items
that
compose
the
instrument.
These


samples
ideally
match
the
culture,
social
class,
and
other
important
social


identities
of
the
individuals
who
compose
practitioners’
caseloads.

If
the


sample
differs,
the
instruments
may
still
be
useful
if
practitioners
modify


them
in
consultation
with
knowledgeable
persons.

Cultural
sensitivity
is
part


of
content
validity.


• They
are
practice
guidelines.
Good
tools
provide
practice
guidelines
in
the
sense


that
they
help
you
keep
important
things
about
clients
in
mind.
It
is
only
human
to

Gilgun letter
Page 3 of 9
have
our
own
favorite
ideas
about
what
is
important.

Useful
tools
alert
you
to


things
that
you
might
not
otherwise
have
thought
about.



• They
help
you
formulate
treatment
goals.

Tools
that
provide
practice
guidelines


can
do
this.
Treatment
goals,
in
turn,
can
help
you
gauge
whether
you
work
is


helping
clients.
If
you
use
the
tools
periodically,
they
will
also
keep
you
focused
on


important
practice
principles.
Of
course,
as
you
work
with
clients,
you
may


formulate
new
treatment
goals
and
find
some
goals
that
tools
helped
you
develop


are
not
appropriate
for
particular
clients.


• They
are
short,
easy
to
use,
and
modifiable.

Most
useful
tools
have
these
qualities.



If
they
are
long
and
cumbersome,
practitioners
may
not
want
to
use
them
because


they
take
time
away
from
direct
client
contact.
Useful
tools
are
modifiable
in
the


sense
that
when
some
items
do
not
work,
practitioners
can
modify
them
to
fit
their


practice.
It
is
better
to
modify
them
in
consultation
with
other
knowledgeable


professionals
in
case
you
are
missing
something
important
that
the
tools
provide.


• They
have
good
indices
of
internal
consistency,
which
is
sometimes
called


reliability.

The
index
should
reach
or
come
close
to
.90
in
clinical
assessment
and


evaluation
tools.

Some
tools
can
have
lower
indices
of
reliability
or
none
at
all
and


still
be
useful
if
they
have
face
validity
and
are
useful
in
other
ways.
Cronbach’s


alpha
is
the
most
common
index
of
internal
consistency,
which
gauged
from
a
scale


of
0‐1.

A
good
alpha
and
good
face
validity
suggest
a
potentially
useful
tool.


• They
have
good
indices
of
inter­rater
reliability,
which
is
another
indicator
of


consistency.

When
an
instrument
has
an
inter‐rater
reliability
score,
this
means


that
two
or
more
practitioners
have
completed
the
instrument
on
the
same
client
or

Gilgun letter
Page 4 of 9
clients.
If
there
are
two
raters,
then
the
number
of
clients
should
be
at
least
15‐20.
If


there
are
15‐20
raters
or
more,
then
the
rating
can
be
done
on
fewer
clients.
The


higher
the
index,
on
a
scale
from
0‐1,
the
more
reliable
the
scale
is.
The
closer
to
1


the
rating
is,
the
more
the
raters
have
agreed.
A
scale
with
a
high
rating
or
one
with


a
low
rating
may
have
poor
face
validity,
and
practitioners
decide
not
to
use
it.
High


face
validity
and
high
inter‐rater
reliability
are
good
indicators
of
potential


usefulness.


An
issue
with
inter‐rater
reliabilities,
however,
is
that
practitioners


who
fill
out
the
instrument
may
have
different
perspectives,
ideas,
and
training
on


the
concepts
that
underlie
the
instruments.

Raters,
therefore,
should
understand


the
theory,
research,
and
practice
wisdom
on
which
the
tools
are
based.

An


excellent
tool
could
receive
a
low
inter‐rater
reliability
score
because
the
raters
did


not
understand
the
concepts
on
which
the
tool
is
based.


• They
have
adequate
test­retest
reliability
(TRR).

Test‐retest
reliability
arises


when
a
group
of
practitioners
fills
out
an
instrument
on
a
group
of
clients
and
days


or
weeks
later
fills
out
the
same
instrument
on
the
same
group
of
clients.
The
scores


on
the
two
different
occasions
are
correlated.

The
indices
that
are
closest
to
1
are


those
that
indicate
the
best
TRRs.
Test‐retest
reliabilities
cannot
be
done
if
the


clients
are
receiving
services
because
any
intervention
could
affect
the
second
set
of


scores.
Face
validity
in
combination
with
the
reliabilities
already
discussed
suggests


a
potentially
useful
instrument.


• They
have
indices
of
construct
validity,
which
help
researchers
and
practitioners


understand
what
the
tools
measure.

To
evaluate
for
construct
validity,
researchers


have
practitioners
fill
out
two
instruments
that
are
thought
to
measure
the
same

Gilgun letter
Page 5 of 9
things.

One
of
the
instruments
already
has
known
psychometric
properties
of


reliability
and
validity.

The
scores
of
the
two
instruments
are
correlated.

The


higher
the
score,
the
more
valid
the
construct
is
thought
to
be.

An
instrument
with


face
validity,
construct
validity,
and
good
reliabilities
is
potentially
useful.


• When
the
issue
is
prediction,
they
have
good
predictive
validity,
which
is
useful
in


some
tools,
such
as
risk
assessments,
whose
purpose
is
to
identify
individuals
at
risk


for
some
conditions.
Their
predictive
usefulness
is
based
upon
how
well
they


predict
future
behaviors.

Child
abuse
risk
assessments
are
examples.

These
can
be


useful
tools
because
they
typically
are
based
upon
research
and
theory
and


practitioner
expertise.

They
can
provide
practice
guidelines
that
help
practitioners


formulate
treatment
goals
that,
if
met,
can
reduce
the
risk
for
the
targeted
behaviors


to
occur.
These
kinds
of
instruments
have
scores
from
0‐1,
like
the
other
indices
of


reliability
and
validity.

They
are
one
of
two
types
of
criterion‐related
validities.

The


other
is
concurrent
validity.

“Criterion”
refers
to
the
idea
that
the
instrument
is


correlated
with
another
external
instrument.


• When
concurrent
validity
is
an
issue,
they
have
good
concurrent
validity,
which
is


a
score
that
researchers
calculate
when
they
correlate
two
or
more
instruments
that


they
administer
at
the
same
time,
with
one
assumed
to
be
a
predictor
of
another.



This
test
is
not
much
used
in
direct
practice,
and
it
is
not
the
same
thing
as
construct


validity.

It
is
used
more
to
get
as
complete
a
picture
as
possible
of
whatever


administrators
of
the
instruments
want
to
know
about
future
performance.


• Factor
analysis
indicators
can
be
helpful
in
some
cases.

Factor
analyses
are


similar
in
some
ways
to
Cronbach’s
alpha
in
that
the
results
of
a
factor
analysis

Gilgun letter
Page 6 of 9
indicate
which
items
of
the
instruments
correlate
with
each
other.

Those
items
that


clump
together
are
factors
that
researchers
named
based
on
which
items
belong
to


which
cluster
or
factor.



Self­Constructed
Instruments


In
some
cases,
practitioners
may
find
self‐constructed
instruments
to
be
helpful
to


their
practice.
Self‐constructed
instruments
typically
have
anchors
on
both
sides
of
a


continuum
and
therefore
are
often
called
self‐anchored
scales.

Some
call
them


individualized
rating
scales.


One
of
the
main
advantages
of
self‐constructed
instruments
is
that
they
are
by


definition
tailor‐made
to
fit
particular,
individual
treatment
situations.

Practitioners


construct
them
to
evaluate
themselves,
to
evaluate
clients,
and
to
evaluate
any
influences


on
the
relationship
between
clients
and
practitioners.
Often
when
practitioners
evaluate


clients,
they
base
their
evaluations
of
clients’
behaviors
while
in
the
presence
of


practitioners
as
well
as
client
reports
of
their
behaviors
in
other
settings.

Practitioners
can


also
help
clients
to
construct
instruments
that
track
clients’
progress
on
goals.


Anchors
typically
have
the
least
desirable
behavior
on
the
left
side
of
a
continuum


and
the
most
desirable
behavior
on
the
other.

The
items
themselves
can
range
from
very


concrete
to
very
general.

When
clients
construct
their
own
instruments,
they
also
choose


their
own
treatment
goals.



In
group
treatment
in
a
woman’s
prison,
a
woman
wanted
to
stop
threatening
other


women
when
she
felt
they
threatened
her.

She
had
some
insight
that
her
threatening


behavior
was
based
on
fear,
beliefs,
and
trauma
that
she
had
experienced
in
the
past.


Although
she
had
the
beginnings
of
an
understanding
of
the
complexity
of
her
issues

Gilgun letter
Page 7 of 9
related
to
threatening
others,
the
behavior
she
chose
to
monitor
was
specific
and
concrete.



This
is
the
self‐constructed
instrument
she
designed
for
herself.


When
I
felt
threatened
this
past
week
I


Hit

 Swore

 Imagined
 Imagined
 Got
Angry
 Talked
to




 
 
 Hitting

 Swearing
 Got
Over
It
 Someone


 


The
woman
reviewed
this
simple
scale
at
the
beginning
of
each
group.

It
provided
a
way


for
her
to
focus
on
the
behavioral
manifestation
of
a
complex
issue.

She
or
the
group


facilitators
could
have
made
a
rating
scale
out
of
this
instrument,
starting
with
0
at
“Hit”
5


for
“Talked
to
Someone.”
These
scores
could
be
graphed
to
show
any
changes
over
time.


Such
graphing
is
not
necessary.

What
is
helpful
is
the
focus
that
the
simple
scale
provided


to
the
client
and
the
deep
roots
of
such
a
simple
scales.





 There
are
other
ways
to
construct
instruments
tailored
to
particular
clients
and


practice
settings.

The
references
at
the
end
of
this
essay
provide
more
information.


Importance
of
Practitioner
Buy­In


Direct
practitioners
will
not
use
tools
that
do
not
help
in
their
practice.

If
their


administrators
insist
they
use
tools
that
do
not
help
them,
they
will
comply
with
directives


to
fill
out
the
tools
but
the
ideas
of
the
tools
may
not
have
much
effect.

The
chances
for


practitioner
buy‐in
are
increased
when
practitioners


• see
the
value
of
the
tool
for
their
practice
effectiveness,
such
as
helping
them


set
goals,
give
direction
for
interventions,
and
gauge
progress
on
goals;


o see
that
the
tools
fit
their
practice.

For
example,
if
practitioners
are


involved
in
dealing
with
crises
and
being
concerned
that
clients
do
not


have
basic
life
skills
such
as
knowing
how
to
brush
their
teeth,
it
is

Gilgun letter
Page 8 of 9
unlikely
that
they
will
find
tools
to
be
helpful
when
the
tools



encourage
skill
development
that
is
beyond
what
their
clients
are
able


to
attain;




• have
input
into
the
items
of
the
instruments,
how
they
use
the
instruments,


and
whether
and
how
the
instruments
are
modified
to
better
fit
practice;


• have
training
on
the
ideas
and
concepts
on
which
the
tools
are
based;


• are
not
swamped
with
paperwork
demands
that
they
find
cuts
down
on
the


time
they
have
for
direct
client
contact.



These
issues
are
stated
in
simple
terms,
but
they
are
complex
and
require
much


thought
and
planning
on
the
part
of
administrators
in
consultation
with
front‐line


practitioners.


Discussion


This
essay
provides
information
on
how
to
choose
assessment
and
evaluation
tools


in
social
work
direct
practice.
Standardized
and
self‐constructed
instruments
have
many


advantages,
but
social
workers
will
not
use
them
if
they
do
not
find
the
tools
helpful.



Administrators
have
the
responsibility
to
involve
front‐line
workers
in
the
construction,


modification,
and
procedures
for
using
instruments.

They
also
must
allow
for
training
of


practitioners
so
that
they
have
an
appreciation
of
the
research,
theory,
and
practice


wisdom
on
which
tools
are
based.
Finally,
practitioners
require
time
to
use
the
tools
and
to


interpret
the
information
that
the
tools
produce.

If
the
practitioners
experience
the


instruments
as
add‐ons
to
an
already
heavy
caseload
and
to
which
they
have
few
if
any


involvement
and
investment,
the
tools
will
be
of
little
use.


At
their
best,
assessment
and
intervention
tools
provide
practice
guidelines
useful
in

Gilgun letter
Page 9 of 9
understanding
the
complexities
of
clients’
lives,
information
on
what
is
working
and
not


working,
focus
for
clients
on
client‐selected
goals,
insight
for
practitioners
on
what
they
are


doing
and
how
they
can
do
better,
and
provide
evidence
that
the
efforts
of
social
workers


have
outcomes
that
can
be
shared
with
others.

Funders
prefer
to
sponsor
programs
that


show
effectiveness.



References


APA
Taskforce
on
Evidence‐Based
Practice
(2006).
Evidence‐based
practice
in

psychology.
American
Psychologist,
61(4),
271‐185.

Gilgun,
Jane
F.
(2005).
The
four
cornerstones
of
evidence‐based
practice
in
social
work.

Research
on
Social
Work
Practice,
15(1),
52‐61.

Bloom,
Martin,
Joel
Fischer,
&
John
G.
Orme
(2009).
Evaluating
practice:
Guidelines

for
the
accountable
professional.

Boston:
Pearson.

Bordelon,
Thomas
D.
(2006).

A
qualitative
approach
to
development
an
instrument

for
assessing
MSW
students’
group
work
performance.

Social
Work
with
Groups,
29(4),
75‐
91.


Gilgun,
Jane
F.
(2005).
The
four
cornerstones
of
evidence‐based
practice
in
social
work.

Research
on
Social
Work
Practice,
15(1),
52‐61.

Gilgun,
Jane
F.
(2004).

Qualitative
methods
and
the
development
of
clinical

assessment
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Development
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A
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Wenbron,
Jennifer
et
al
(2008).
Assessing
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About
the
Author


Jane
F.
Gilgun,
Ph.D.,
LICSW,
is
a
professor,
School
of
Social
Work,
University
of
Minnesota,

Twin
Cities,
USA.
See
Professor
Gilgun’s
other
articles,
children’s
books,
and
articles
on

Amazon
Kindle,
scribd.com/professorjane,
and
stores.lulu.com/jgilgun.