Repetitive Resistance To OSHA Rules

Virtual Business For Credit

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These articles were prepared for the January 10,

2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Next Step for Testers: Susan Embretson

If you are sitting in front of a computer to take your

Graduate Record Exam, you might not want to know that a computer


is choosing the next question. But it is. Educational Testing


test delivery software chooses each question for individual test


based on their answers to the previous item.

ETS aims to go one step further, to enable the software to actually

devise the next question, so the question is being written "just

for you." This leading edge programming is called "on the

fly" adaptive testing, and Susan Embretson, a researcher

at the University of Kansas, is one of its pioneers.

Embretson comes to ETS to give the William H. Angoff lecture, entitled

"Second Century of Ability Testing: Some Predictions and


on Thursday, January 11, at 3 p.m. in the Chauncey Conference Center

on Rosedale Road. The lecture is free by reservation. Call Madeline

Moritz at 609-734-5035 (

"Item response theory, a psychometric method by which tests are

scaled, permits GRE adaptive testing, where two people don’t get the

same test," she explains in a telephone interview. "The


item is selected for each person each time. One impact is that you

get shorter and more reliable tests. But item response principles

are just not well understood by psychologists."

Embretson’s latest book "Item Response Theory for


explains these new rules of item response theory to the test-making

psychologists. "Being able to understand the principles is the

most difficult," she says. "Other books introduce the topic

in a statistical way and give few examples."

Embretson went to the University of Minnesota, Class of 1967, and

earned her doctor’s degree there. She has taught at the University

of Kansas for 25 years, is past president of the Psychometric Society,

and a past vice president of the division of the American


Society. She has been associated with ETS on various boards since

the early 1980s. "ETS has always been the leader in psychometric

testing," she says. "It has just been fascinating for me to

see it evolve over time."

Why her initial interest in psychometric testing? "I was


in psychology, but my talents are in the mathematical area," she

says. "The first psychology book I bought that was not required

for a course was on psychometric methods, and I read it cover to cover

several times."

She focuses on the "processing burden," how many things the

test taker must keep track of. "We look at the item to understand

in what ways it is difficult," she says. She will cover 11


kinds of items in the public lecture. "I have models —


modeling of item processing — that will predict how difficult

the item will be for the item types."

The types can be divided into two major categories, those that measure

fluid intelligence versus those that measure crystallized


which allows for an individual’s encounter with culture.

Matrix completion, an item type that measures fluid intelligence,

can best be described by an example. Imagine a three by three square,

like a tic tac toe board. Your task is to discover the rules for the

nine elements and complete the matrix. The top row is simple


all black, decreasing in size. The next row is white squares, which

start with the largest. In the last row is a rectangle with a pattern,

but its third square is blank, and you have to find something to fill

it (probably a small rectangle with a pattern). Such very basic


get more complicated when test takers add different relationships.

In addition to the public lecture, Embretson will give a private


to ETS experts. "I have gone a step further," she says,


I find it interesting now to understand the items so well that they

can be constructed by a computer program on the spot to a target level

of difficulty. I have two generators for nonverbal test items, one

for the matrix completion problems and one for the spatial ability

problems." Her "on the fly" generators are embedded with

principles and stimuli. A principle might be how to combine figures

to obtain a certain difficulty level. A stimuli might be, for


circles, squares, or shading.

These generators make it possible — as a person is taking a test

— for an item to be written for that person on the spot. "This

requires a very deep understanding of the item," she says.

At ETS Embretson works with Isaac Bejar, senior director of

assessment design and scoring, a 25-person center in the research

division. Bejar went to InterAmerican University in San Juan, Class

of 1970, and has a doctoral degree from University of Minnesota.

"Our aim is to develop the `on the fly’ test delivery


says Bejar. "First we must assess the equivalence of `on the fly’

software with the regular computer-based GRE." The center recently

completed data collection in Philadelphia, at Fordham in New York

City, and at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Initially the on the fly software will be used on mathematical


questions with analytic reasoning coming next. Another of Bejar’s

research area is adapting test content to other languages. "What

we do here are the studies," Bejar cautions. "Implementation

is in the hands of the business units that are responsible for the

testing programs. We hope our research will be so compelling that

the business units will want to deploy this software within the next

three years."

Should item writers fret that they are going to be out of their jobs?

"That’s right," says Embretson, "but they are going to

have different kinds of jobs. They will be looking for principles

and stimuli."

If you as a test taker are worried about computers fashioning your

verbal questions, stop worrying, at least for now. "That is


people are only talking about," says Embretson.

"We are beginning a very strong initiative in verbal," says

Bejar, "but we anticipate the verbal will raise new challenges

we have not seen before, to put it mildly."

— Barbara Fox

Top Of Page
Repetitive Resistance To OSHA Rules

Those new repetitive motion regulations — the ones

proposed by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration

— are running into trouble even before they are supposed to take

effect on Tuesday, January 16. William Guhl, administrator of

Lawrence Township, has issued a clarion call to other municipalities,

protesting that regulations will cost too much. And at least one


society, the American College of Occupational and Environmental


(ACOEM), has withdrawn its support for the Ergonomics Program


In response, the Corporate Health Center has put together a breakfast

workshop entitled "2001: Ready for the New Ergonomics Rule?


Motion Injury, Carpal Tunnel, Musculoskeletal Disorders."


for Thursday, January 11, at 7:30 a.m. at the center’s headquarters

on 832 Brunswick Avenue in Trenton, it will feature Michael J.

Makowski MD, the center’s director, and Robyn Agri, also

of the center. The workshop is free by reservation; call 609-695-7471.

The new standard covers 6.1 million general industry worksites with

more than 102 million workers ( About 60 percent of

them are working for companies that have not yet addressed ergonomics,

so they are at risk for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) such as


tunnel syndrome and back injuries.

OSHA predicts that employers will need to fix or adjust 18 million

jobs over 10 years at a cost of $4.5 billion per year, but OSHA


this injury-prevention will reduce the number of MSDs by 50 percent.

Only half of work-related MSDs are reported, says an OSHA


but about 600,000 of the 1.8 million reported MSDs are so serious

that workers need time off. Injured workers are entitled to get


attention and receive pay and benefits for up to 90 days. In addition,

one-third of workers compensation costs are due to work-related MSDs.

"The workshop will cover medical treatment and workers


vis a vis the new OSHA standards," says the Corporate Health


Joe Whitty. Additional speakers will be Mary Rudakewych

of the State of New Jersey, a representative of federal OSHA, and

Mark E. Litowitz of Hill Wallack. Litowitz, who will cover how

employers can deal with repetitive motion injury in the context of

the New Jersey workers compensation system, was chief judge of the

workers compensation court division until 1994.

ACOEM has technical disputes with the medical provisions of the rules

and expects OSHA to have to defend them in court. "OSHA’s failure

to base the standard on a firm medical foundation lends credence to

the arguments that will be made in court," predicts Robert

L. Goldberg MD, president of ACOEM and assistant clinical professor

at the University of California, San Francisco.

ACOEM objects to the confusion that it says the new rules will bring

regarding whether an injury is work-related. The ACOEM doctors want

OSHA to apply the standard only to work-related disorders "for

which credible scientific evidence exists." For instance, they

feel a worker could attribute an injury to pounding a keyboard when

the injury might actually be related to the worker’s participation

on a weekly bowling team.

Goldberg faults OSHA for failing to include a medically accurate


of "musculoskeletal disorder." He also objects to OSHA’s


to require an appropriate medical diagnosis before the employee is

required to stop working from the current job. In contrast, most


compensation programs require a medical diagnosis before work is


So do the programs that deal with lead, arsenic, and asbestos


Charles N. Jeffress, assistant secretary of labor, says OSHA’s

ergonomics program standard will prevent 460,000 workers from having

painful injuries and save an average of $9.1 billion each year.


final standard identifies persistent signs and symptoms of


musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) as problems that must be addressed,

and it increases worker participation in ergonomics programs."

Top Of Page
Virtual Business For Credit

Students in Mercer’s International Business Practice

Firm, a two-semester course, have the opportunity to found and run

a virtual company. This year’s company was "B-Gone Travel,"

a virtual travel agency, says Joan Jones, the instructor.

Credit courses begin Tuesday, January 16. Some are offered at off

campus sites including Ewing High School, Hamilton’s Health Career

Center, the Capital Health System in Trenton, and Trinity Cathedral.

Mercer has 62 associate degrees plus dual-admissions and transfer

opportunities to four-year schools. For information call 609-586-4800,

extension 3228 (

B-Gone Travel is one of two "virtual businesses" that help

to train future entrepreneurs. The first company, Radiant Care, was

established in 1997 and sells personal care products via the Internet

to virtual companies at schools around the globe. For information

on Mercer’s IBPF, check or contact Carol Weber,

program coordinator, at 609-586-4800, extension 3480.

In the first semester, students in B-Gone Travel wrote a business

plan for the company and came up with financing, each investing some

of their own "virtual" money. They issued stock,


a bank line of credit, and wrote an employee manual.

The business set up four departments: accounting, human resources,

purchasing/sales, and marketing. Depending upon their personal goals

and objectives, students in the firm took various jobs. If they wanted

to change jobs, they had to formally apply for the new position.

In this "on-the-job" learning environment, students took the

roles of actual travel agents by following up and insuring client

satisfaction. "Students developed a bank of information —

about travel to foreign countries, money exchange, passports, etc.

It included places to go and things to do," explained Jones. They

also developed a client database for future marketing.

The package they developed was a seven-night cruise, starting at $630

per person, departing from Tampa, with ports of call in the Grand

Caymans, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Mexico, and New Orleans. Some

members of the Mercer County Community College community, supported

the effort "virtual money to book virtual trips and have a virtual

good time."

"Our intent is give students an opportunity to establish and run

an agency," says Jones, who has been an instructor for Mercer’s

aviation and travel programs since 1985. "Students really buy

into this and it becomes their company. They take pride in it. If

there is a problem, we sit down together and they have to work it

through. It is great for learning how to work as a team, both within

departments and in the company as a whole."

"It is a lot of fun. Students all walk away feeling that they

have learned a lot more than in a traditional classroom. I shouldn’t

be called an instructor. In this class I am a facilitator."

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