Skip to main content Accessibility help

Civil Service Mandated Cutoff Scores: Challenges and Practice Recommendations

  • Calvin C. Hoffman (a1)

Los Angeles County's civil service rule specifies a 70% cutoff score regardless of the situation (type of job, type of assessment, or outcome of interest). This civil service rule would be difficult to defend if it were challenged in court, and the rule places the county at increased risk in the event of employment litigation, particularly with public safety jobs (police, fire, sheriff, etc.). Additionally, it is unlikely that this cutoff would optimally balance the county's interests in fair employment practices and expected job performance (SIOP, 2003). Given the propensity for public safety candidates and employees to file lawsuits related to hiring and promotions, and given the fact that public safety agencies in this county have been subjected to a number of employment-related lawsuits in the past, the current rule is problematic. Prior to this rule's development, as well as after its implementation in 1988, there has been substantial litigation related to cutoff scores, and courts have identified what they consider to be more and less appropriate methods for setting cutoff scores.

Corresponding author
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Calvin C. Hoffman, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Test Development Unit, 4700 Ramona Blvd., Monterey Park, CA 91754. E-mail:
Hide All

The author gratefully acknowledges the comments and suggestions provided by Dr. Jerry Kehoe during the writing of this paper.

Hide All
AERA, APA, NCME. (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
American Psychological Association. (2002). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct (Amended February 20, 2010).
Angoff, W. H. (1971). Scales, norms, and equivalent scores. In Thorndike, R. L. (Ed.), Educational measurement (2nd ed., pp. 508600). Washington, DC: American Council on Education.
Cascio, W. F., Alexander, R. A., & Barrett, G. V. (1988). Setting cutoff scores: Legal, psychometric, and professional issues and guidelines. Personnel Psychology, 41, 124.
Contreras v. City of Los Angeles , 656 F.2d 1267 (9th Cir. 1981).
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Civil Service Commission, Depart of Labor & Justice. (1978). Uniform guidelines on employee selection procedures. Federal Register, 43, 3829038315.
Gatewood, R., Feild, H., & Barrick, M. (2011). Human resource selection (7th ed.). Mason, OH: Southwestern.
Griggs v. Duke Power Company , 401 U.S. 424 (1971).
Guardians Association of New York City Police Department, Inc. v. Civil Service Commission , 484 F. Supp. 785, 793 (S.D.N.Y. 1980).
Hoffman, C. C., & Thornton, G. C. III (1997). Examining selection utility where competing predictors differ in adverse impact. Personnel Psychology, 44, 601619.
Kehoe, J., Brown, S., & Hoffman, C. C. (2012). The life cycle of successful selection programs. In Schmitt, N. (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of personnel selection and assessment (pp. 903936). New York: Oxford University Press.
Kehoe, J., & Olson, A. (2005). Cut scores and employment discrimination litigation. In Landy, F. J. (Ed.), Employment discrimination litigation (pp. 410448). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kline, T. J. B. (2006). Psychological testing: A practical approach to design and evaluation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
National Education Association v. South Carolina , 434 U.S. 1026 (1978).
Nunnally, J. C., & Bernstein, I. H. (1994). Psychometric theory (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Ployhart, R. E., & Holtz, B. C. (2008). The diversity–validity dilemma: Strategies for reducing racioethnic and sex subgroup differences and adverse impact in selection. Personnel Psychology, 61, 153172.
Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. (2003). Principles for the validation and use of personnel selection procedures (4th ed.). College Park, MD: Author.
U.S. and Vulcan Society v. City of New York , 490 F2D 387 (2009).
Valle, C., & Hoffman, C. C. (2013, May). Commentary on TRAC STAND function. Unpublished technical note, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • ISSN: 1754-9426
  • EISSN: 1754-9434
  • URL: /core/journals/industrial-and-organizational-psychology
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed