Reading ability as a predictor of police academy performance and post academy performance

Donald V. Keith


Since the 1950s, a growing number of organizations and professional associations have advocated that law enforcement officers possess a baccalaureate degree as an academic qualifier for employment. They argue that officers with an advanced education perform better, are more tolerant of minorities, and tend to use force less. Yet states have ignored this appeal and instead require high school diplomas or general educational development (GED) certificates. These credentials are lacking and do not truly represent academic competency at the 12th-grade level. In fact, the literature showed that many of today's high school graduates and GED recipients are marginally literate. Accordingly, a supplemental assessment measuring academic competency is needed to validate high school or GED credentials. This study examined the reading ability of Mississippi law enforcement officers attending basic training at four regional academies and compared them with academy and post academy performance. The Tests of Adult Basic Education (TABE) Form 5, Level D Reading subtest was administered to 92 officers. The TABE's grade equivalent reading scores (GERS) were evaluated with academy academic average and overall scores using Pearson's product-moment correlation test with an alpha of .05. Additionally the results were compared with post academy performance as determined by an assessment instrument measuring 30 variables. This instrument was administered four months after completing the academy by supervisors and peers, creating two assessments for each officer. The results indicated that 25% of the officers GERS were below the 10th grade, with two at the 6th grade, yet all passed academy academic testing. A positive correlation was found between the dependent variable GERS and the independent variables academy academic average ( r = .469, p > .001) and overall scores (r = .259, p = .014); however, GERS did not correlate with officer performance. The findings showed that high school and GED credentials do not guarantee a reading ability equivalent to the 12th grade and may not accurately represent one's academic competency. The study did not show a relationship between GERS and officer performance, nor did it establish the minimum GERS needed to predict academy and post academy success.