Sedlacek, W. E. (1996). An empirical method of determining nontraditional group status. Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development, 28, 200-210.

An Empirical Method of Determining Nontraditional Group Status
William E. Sedlacek
University of Maryland, College Park


A procedure employing two measures, the Situational Attitude Scale and the Noncognitive Questionnaire, is described. If a group experiences prejudice and shows ability through noncognitive variables, it is considered nontraditional.

Multicultural assessments have received increased emphasis recently (Prediger, 1993). A common problem faced by assessment specialists, counseling and personnel professionals, and policy administrators is defining who should be considered in our diversity programs. Common conceptions or terms include racial designations (e.g., African-American, Asian), more socio-political terms (e.g., people of color, third world people), or specific groupings such as visible racial ethnic groups (VREGS) (Helms, 1992). Some determinations are made by numerical frequency in a given field. For example, the Association of American Medical Colleges bases "minority status" on whether a group is underrepresented in medicine. Still others consider such groups as women, (Russo, Olmedo, Stapp and Fulcher, (1981), gays, lesbians and bisexuals , (Washington, 1993) or athletes (Engstrom & Sedlacek, 1991) under the "diversity" umbrella. However, Sue, Arredondo and McDavis (1992) express concern that terms can be defined so broadly that one can avoid dealing with what they feel are the four major groups whose problems need addressing: African-Americans, American Indians, Asian-Americans, and Hispanics/Latinos.

Westbrook and Sedlacek (1991) studied the labels used to describe what they called "nontraditional students" in the Education Index over forty years. Terms have varied from a focus on acculturation in the 1950's to disadvantaged in the 1960's to cross-cultural in the 1970's to multicultural in the 1980's. Diversity may be the most common term for the 1990's. While these terms may suggest different approaches to the groups discussed, operationally we may still be discussing the same people; those with cultural experiences different than those of White middle class males of European descent; those with less power to control their lives; and those who experience discrimination in the United States. But does it make sense to include such variables as gender, sexual orientation, or status as an athlete as aspects of cultural experience?

Sedlacek (in press), while feeling that labels and terminology have important symbolic and conceptual value, noted that they may not help in making decisions in research, programs or practice. He has proposed a two-step measurement approach to defining what he calls "nontraditional" persons who should be included in diversity programs. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate and discuss the methodology employed in this process.

The Measurement of Prejudice

The first step in assessing whether a given group is to be considered "nontraditional" is whether they experience prejudice. Prejudice here is defined as some negative attributions or consequences of being a member of a certain group. Measuring the degree of prejudice against a group has been difficult because of the tendency many people have to mask or avoid expressing such feelings because of social acceptability. In response to this measurement problem, Sedlacek and Brooks (1970) developed the Situational Attitude Scale (SAS). The SAS employs experimental and control forms and provides a situational context to make the psychological withdrawal from the stimulus more difficult. The SAS methodology has been shown to have evidence of reliability and validity in assessing attitudes toward racial and ethnic groups such as Blacks (Balenger, Hoffman, and Sedlacek, 1992), Hispanics (White and Sedlacek, 1987), Jews (Gerson and Sedlacek, 1992), and Arabs (Sergent, Woods and Sedlacek, 1992). The SAS has also been employed in measuring attitudes toward persons with disabilities (McQuilkin, Freitag and Harris, 1990); older persons (Schwalb, Sedlacek and Jones, 1990); Mormons (Gilman, 1983); women (Minatoya and Sedlacek, 1983); children (Knight, Seefeldt and Sedlacek, 1993); commuting students (Wilkshire, 1989); gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (Washington, 1993); athletes (Engstrom and Sedlacek, 1991); and African-American clients (Stovall, 1989).

This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but only illustrative of some of the groups to which the SAS has been applied. Also, there is no assumption that there is prejudice against a given group or that it is equally strong or socially relevant for all groups. The SAS methodology can be used to determine the presence or absence of prejudice and the degree to which it is present. The test-retest and coefficient alpha reliability estimates are in the .70 to .89 range.

Creating SAS Situations

The first step is to develop a set of situations that may generate prejudice toward a given group from another group. These can be obtained from publications (popular or professional), or from focus groups, brainstorming sessions or pilot studies. For example, research literature and popular press reports indicated that if we wish to assess attitudes of Whites toward African-Americans, living in close proximity may evoke prejudice among some Whites. So several situations dealing with roommates, and people living in one's neighborhood were pilot tested prior to inclusion in a final instrument.

A useful technique is a brainstorming session involving representatives of the group to which the scale will be administered where stereotypes and situations which might engender prejudice are discussed. By asking for examples they might have seen in others, one can reduce the reluctance to discuss one's own feelings. It is important to note that situations should be relevant to the group being assessed and expressed in their terminology.

For example, in a discussion with able-bodied persons, the word "handicapped" was commonly employed when discussing persons with physical disabilities, so that stimulus term was employed, since the point is to try to elicit a prejudiced response from that group, not to be politically correct, or to use terms that might be employed by another group. Table 1 shows the situations developed in a form of the SAS designed to assess attitudes toward "Arabs". The term Arab does not have a precise meaning (Patai, 1973) but is used routinely to express negative attitudes by "non-Arabs".

Constructing Multiple SAS Forms

After the situations have been developed, two or more forms of the SAS version are created. One form (A) is neutral and makes no mention of a particular group in the situation. A second form (B) includes the stimulus term of interest; in Table 1, "Arab". Thus the only difference between the forms is that term, and hence any mean difference noted in responses to the two forms randomly assigned to a group must be due to the stimulus term, using the logic of experimental and control conditions.

The SAS has been designed to elicit both overt and less conscious feelings and to control for socially desirable responses. The SAS has typically comprised 10 personal and social situations with some relevance to the particular form of prejudice being studied, followed by 10 bipolar semantic differential scales (Osgood, Suci, & Tannenbaum, 1957) for each situation. Participants are not aware that other forms exist or that comparisons are being made. Consequently, the validity of the SAS is determined by the mean response differences between the two or more forms (see Figure 1). Figure 1 shows examples of instructions to respondents, and semantic differential word scales for a form assessing attitudes toward Arabs.

Semantic differential items which are evaluative (as opposed to those showing power or movement) usually work best in eliciting reactions to the situations. Situation scores can be calculated, making sure to reflect the polarity of items so they are scored in the same direction. The homogeneity of the situations can be further analyzed using factor analysis or cluster analysis (Sedlacek and Brooks, 1972).

While it is possible to create more than two forms, it is important that the situations be relevant to expressing prejudice toward the two or more groups in the experimental forms. Situations that might elicit prejudice toward one group might not work with another group. For example, personal situations usually elicit the strongest negative actions toward Blacks from non-Blacks (Carter, White and Sedlacek, 1987), but more public situations tend to generate the most negative reactions to gays, lesbians and bisexuals (Washington, 1993).

However, in a study of attitudes toward persons with physical disabilities, three stimulus terms (neutral, blind, and wheelchair) showed differences with the same series of situations (Stovall and Sedlacek, 1983).

Summary of SAS Methodology

After relevant situations are created and semantic differential evaluative scales developed, experimental and control forms of the instrument are constructed. Forms are randomly assigned to participants, situation scores are calculated and differences among forms determined. A possible way to analyze form differences is with Multivariate Analyses of Variance (MANOVA) with form as an independent variable and situation scores ad dependent variables. Table 1 shows an example of form differences by situation on the SAS-Arab. Interactions of form by other variables (e.g., gender) are also possible.

Thus, the SAS methodology allows for flexibility of form development in that forms could be uniquely developed for particular circumstances. For example, if a given city were experiencing difficulties in certain situations between members of particular groups, the SAS methodology would allow for a quantification of those circumstances. This could not only help to determine who might be "nontraditional" in certain circumstances but what situations might be focused upon to reduce prejudice and help to solve some of the problems involved. Various forms of the SAS are available from the author at no cost.

Measuring Noncognitive Variables

One interpretation of how to improve our assessment measures is to hone and fine-tune them so they are equally valid for everyone. However, if different groups have different experiences and different ways of presenting their attributes and abilities, it is unlikely that we could develop a single measure, test item, etc. that could be equally valid for all. If we concentrate on results rather than intentions, we could conclude that it is important to do an equally good job of assessment for each group, not that we need to use the same instrument for everyone.

Standardized tests such as the ACT, SAT, or GRE were designed to predict first year grades at a time when most students were White, male and upper-middle class. The tests performed this function fairly well for these students throughout the years, and still do (Sedlacek, 1989). As colleges and universities have admitted more females, and students with a wider range of cultural, racial and socio-economic characteristics, standardized tests have not correlated as well with grades for these groups (Sedlacek, 1989).

Generally, these tests were not designed to correlate with grades beyond the first year, with retention in any year, or with graduation and success beyond college. They tend not to correlate well with these criteria for any group, including White, upper-middle class males (Sedlacek, 1989). In the case of students from racial and cultural minority groups, the standardized tests are less related to these criteria (Sedlacek, 1989).

Why don't standardized tests relate to measures of student success beyond the first year? Aside from not being designed to do so, Sternberg (1985, 1986) points out that such tests measure only one aspect of intelligence, analytic ability. He defines analytic ability as "one's capacity to interpret information in a well-defined and unchanging context." Sternberg feels standardized tests generally do not measure synthetic ability or systemic ability; the two other components of intelligence he identifies. Persons with synthetic ability are able to interpret information in changing contexts. They can easily shift from one perspective to another. They are creative, and are likely to be the best researchers or contributors to their fields. Persons with systemic intelligence know how to interpret and use the system or environment to their advantage. They are "street-wise."

If we examine a typical curriculum, many would agree that synthetic and systemic intelligence come into play more in the later years of most programs since upper-level courses tend to require students to write more, discuss more, and hopefully think more. Analytic skills, as defined by Sternberg, appear less useful by themselves beyond the first year.

The Noncognitive Questionnaire

The Noncognitive Questionnaire (NCQ) is designed to assess attributes that are not typically measured by other instruments and that may be common ways for persons with nontraditional experiences to show their abilities (Sedlacek, 1989). If the NCQ systematically correlates more with the success of members of a given group (e.g., Blacks) than it does for traditional White males, then the group meets the second criterion for inclusion as a nontraditional group.

The noncognitive variable system noted in Figure 2 appears to measure synthetic and systemic ability. Thus, the task for the counseling professional is to tap the client's full range of abilities by doing all the assessments necessary. Members of nontraditional groups tend to need synthetic and systemic abilities to survive more than people with more traditional experience. For instance, realistic self-appraisal appears to be a synthetic ability while handling racism shows a systemic ability. Equality, in counseling as in other areas, should be equality of outcome not process. If, to do our best job, we need to assess different ways of showing abilities for different people, let's do it.

The NCQ has been shown to have validity in assessing the performance of a variety of nontraditional groups including Blacks (Tracey and Sedlacek, 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, 1989; White and Sedlacek, 1986), Hispanics (Fuertes and Sedlacek, 1993), Asians (Fuertes, Sedlacek, and Liu, 1993), international students (Boyer and Sedlacek, 1988), and athletes (Sedlacek and Adams-Gaston, 1992). These studies have shown that the NCQ scales predict the grades, retention and graduation from college of the students in the studies noted above. Reliability estimates (test-retest and coefficient alpha) range from .70 to .94 on the eight scales with a median of .85.

Summary of NCQ Methodology

One can do assessments of noncognitive variables using the NCQ or by interviewing using the profiles in Figure 2 (see Sedlacek, 1991). The NCQ is brief (two sides of one sheet), has validity and reliability information available on it, and is available at no cost from the writer along with scoring instructions. By doing assessments on noncognitive variables, one can increase the likelihood of doing more comprehensive and valid assessments and move toward a determination of which persons might be considered nontraditional in our work with individuals or groups.


In conclusion, if a group experiences prejudice and demonstrates abilities in ways different from those with traditional experiences, they are operationally defined as nontraditional. Even through groups as different as athletes and older people may show their diversity in different ways, the variables underlying their problems in dealing with their development, and in coping with a traditional system that was not designed for them, may have some similarities.

By employing the SAS and the NCQ according to the procedures noted above, it is possible to apply measurement principles to the problem of deciding who should be included when we plan diversity programs, conduct studies with nontraditional populations or try to make interpretations about what issues may underlie the experiences of a client or group. This should allow practitioners and researchers to move beyond issues of definition and reach higher levels of inductive thinking about nontraditional persons.


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Engstrom, C. M ., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1993). Attitudes of resident hall students toward student-athletes: Implications for advising, training and programming. Journal of College and University Student Housing, 23 (1), 28-33.

Fuertes, J. N., Sedlacek, W. E., & Liu, W. M. (1993). Using the SAT and noncognitive variables to predict the grades and retention of Asian-American university students. Counseling Center Research Report #8-93. University of Maryland, College Park.

Gerson, S. J., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1992). Student attitudes toward "JAPS": The new anti-semitism. The College Student Affairs Journal, 11 (3), 44-53.

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Gilman, L. J. (1983). Assisting evangelicals in presenting a positive witness to Mormons. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, California.

Helms, J. E. (1992). Why is there no study of cultural equivalence in standardized cognitive ability testing? American Psychologist, 47, 1083-1101.

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McQuilkin, J. I., Freitag, C. B., & Harris, J. L. (1990). Attitudes of college students toward handicapped persons. Journal of College Student Development, 31, 17-22.

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Stovall, C., & Sedlacek, W. E. (1983). Attitudes of male and female university students toward students with different physical disabilities. Journal of College Student Personnel, 24, 325-330.

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	Table 1

Form Differences on the SAS-Arab:  Means and Standard Deviations


Situation					Neutral Form	 Arab Form

						Mean	  SD	Mean	  SD

1. You are standing on a very crowded		32.98	  5.6	34.35	  7.1	     	

   bus surrounded by many (Arab*) people.

2. You are going on vacation with your		35.09     6.7	36.38	  6.9

   best friend and his/her (Arab*) friend 

   of the opposite sex.

3. You are boarding a plane for a vacation	35.93**   6.4	31.97	  8.8 

   in Florida, and two young (Arab*) men 

   are boarding immediately behind you.

4. You are buying a used car from (an		30.01**   6.1	33.82     7.9 

   Arab*) salesman.

5. You are watching a television news		34.01	  6.4	32.83     5.9 

   program about divorced  (Arab*) fathers 

   being given custody of their children.

6. You are required to attend a			34.04     8.3	32.12	  8.7

   (an Islamic*) religious service for 

   a school research project.

7. You notice a (an Arab*) student		25.31	  4.8	36.66     8.7 

   cheating on an exam.

8. You see a group of (Arab*) students		37.73	   8.0	36.66	  8.7  

   staging an on-campus demonstration 

   against discrimination.

9. You hear of a (an Arab*) student		38.66**  8.5	36.34   7.5 

   getting financial aid. 

10. A new (Arab*) person joins your		37.20	   6.5	36.90   8.4 

    social group.


Note:   Higher scores denote more positive attitudes

 	*Form B insertion

 	**Means between forms were significantly different at .05 level using 


Figure 1

Instructions and Word Scales For SAS-Arab

This questionnaire measures how people think and feel about a number of social and personal incidents and situations. It is not a test, so there are no right or wrong answers. The questionnaire is anonymous, so please DO NOT SIGN YOUR NAME.

Each item or situation is followed by 10 descriptive word scales. Your task is to select, for each descriptive scale, the rating which best describes YOUR feelings toward the item.

Sample item: Starting school this fall

happy A B C D E sad

You would indicate the direction and extent of your feelings, (e.g., you might select B) by indicating your choice (B) on your response sheet by blackening in the appropriate space for that word scale. DO NOT MARK ON THE BOOKLET. PLEASE RESPOND TO ALL WORD SCALES.

Sometimes you may feel as though you had the same item before on the questionnaire. This will not be the case, so DO NOT LOOK BACK AND FORTH through the items. Do not try to remember how you checked similar items earlier in the questionnaire. MAKE EACH ITEM A SEPARATE AND INDEPENDENT JUDGMENT. Respond as honestly as possible without puzzling over individual items. Respond with your first impression wherever possible.

Figure 1 (continued)

Word Scales

  1. fearful-secure, tolerable-intolerable, hostile-indifferent, important-trivial, conspicuous-inconspicuous, calm-anxious, indignant-understanding. comfortable-uncomfortable, hate-love, not resentful-resentful.
  2. aggressive-passive, happy-sad, tolerable-intolerable,complimented-insulted, angered-overjoyed, secure-fearful, hopeful-hopeless, excited-unexcited, right-wrong, disgusting-pleasing.
  3. calm-fear, bad-good, safe-unsafe, happy-sad, tense-relaxed, fair-unfair,love-hate, trivial-important, suspicious-trusting, angry-not angry.
  4. trust-mistrust, tense-relaxed, fair-unfair, bad-good, happy-sad, comfortable-uncomfortable, clean-dirty, angry-not angry, appropriate-inappropriate, surprised-not surprised.
  5. empathy-no empathy, happy-sad, fear-calm, trivial-important, logical-llogical, comfortable-uncomfortable, love-hate, shocked-expected, safe-unsafe, good-bad.
  6. fear-calm, strange-natural, sad-happy, good-bad, interesting-uninteresting, logical-illogical, suspicious-not suspicious, bizarre-normal, reasonable-unreasonable, love-hate.
  7. expected-unexpected, disgusting-not disgusting, fair-unfair, calm-fear, negative-positive, happy-sad, angry-not angry, normal-not normal, hope-hopeless, shocked-not shocked.
  8. bad-good, understanding-indifferent, suspicious-trusting, safe-unsafe, disturbed-undisturbed, justified-unjustified, tense-calm, hate-love, wrong-right, humorous-serious.
  9. surprise-no surprise, fair-unfair, reasonable-unreasonable, good-bad, sad-happy, angry-calm, not shocked-shocked, unexpected-expected, positive-negative, serious-not serious.
  10. warm-cold, sad-happy, superior-inferior, threatened-neutral,pleased- displeased, understanding-indifferent, suspicious-trusting, disappointed-elated,favorable-unfavorable, uncomfortable-comfortable.

Figure 2

Definitions of NCQ Scales


					High Score			Low Score

1.  Positive Self-Concept		Feels confident of making it	Can express reason(s) why he/

    or Confidence.			through graduation.  Makes	she might have to leave school.

    Strong self-feeling, 		positive statements about him/	Not sure he/she has ability to

    strength of character.		herself.  Expects to do well  	make it.  Feels other students

    Determination,			in academic and nonacademic 	are better than he/she is.

    independence			areas.  Assumes he/she can 	Expects to get marginal grades.

					handle new situations or 	Feels he/she will have trouble

					challenges.			balancing personal and academic

									life.  Avoids new challenges or


2.  Realistic Self-Appraisal		Appreciates and accepts		Not sure how evaluations are done

    especially academic.		rewards as well as 		in school.  Overreacts to most 

    Recognizes and accepts		consequences of poor 		recent reinforcement (positive or 

    any deficiencies and		performance.  Understands 	reinforcement negative), rather 

    works hard at self-			that reinforcement 		than seeing it in a large 

    development.  Recognizes		is imperfect and does not	context.  Does not know how

    need to broaden his/her		overreact to positive or 	he/she is doing in class

    individuality.			negative feedback.  Has		until grades are out.  Does not 

    developed a system of using		have a good ideas of how peers 

    feedback to alter behavior.		would rate his/her performance.

3.  Understands and Deals		Understands the role of the	Not sure how the "system" works.

    With Racism.			"system" in his/her life and	Preoccupied with  racism or does

    Realist based upon			how it treats nontraditional	not feel racism exists.  Blames 

    personal experience			persons, often 			others for problems.  Reacts with

    of racism.  Is committed		unintentionally.  Has		same intensity to large and small

    to fighting to improve		developed a method of		issues concerned with race/culture.

    existing system.  Not		assessing the cultural/		Does not have a method of 

    submissive to existing		racial demands of the		successfully handling racism that

    wrongs, nor hostile to		system and responding		does not interfere with personal

    society, nor a "cop-out."		accordingly - assertively,	and academic development.

    Able to handle racist		if the gain is small or 

    system.  Asserts school		the situation is ambiguous.

    or organization role		Does not blame others for

    to fight racism.			his/her problems or 

    appears as a "Pollyana"

    who does not see racism.

4.  Prefers Long-Range to		Can set goals and proceed 	Lack of evidence of setting and

    Short-Term or Immediate		for some time without 		accomplishing goals.  Likely to

    Needs.				reinforcement.  Shows 		proceed without clear direction.

    Able to respond to			patience. Can see 		Relies on others to determine

    deferred gratification.		partial fulfillment of		Does not have a plan for

					a longer term goal.		approaching a course, school in

					Is future and past 		general, an activity, etc.

					oriented and does not		Goals that are stated are vague 

					just see immediate		and unrealistic.

					issues or problems.		

					Shows evidence of

					planning in academic

					and nonacademic areas.


5.  Availability of Strong		Has identified and received	No evidence of turning to

    Support Person to whom		help, support, and		others for help.  No single

    to turn in crises.			encouragement from one or	support person, mentor, or

					more specific individuals.  	close advisor can be identified.

					Does not rely solely on 	Does not talk about his/her

					his/her own resources 		problems.  Feels he/she can

					to solve problems.		handle things on his/her own.

					Is not a "loner". 		Access to previous support

					Willing to admit that		person may be reduced or 

					he/she needs help		eliminated.  Is not aware of the

					when appropriate.		importance of a support person.

6.  Successful Leadership		Has shown evidence of		No evidence that others turn to

    Experience in any			influencing others in 		him/her for advice or direction.

    area pertinent to his/		academic areas.  Comfortable 	Nonassertive.  Does not take

    her background (gang		providing advice and 		initiative.  Overly cautious.

    leader, church, sports,		direction to others.  Has 	Avoids controversy.  Not well

    noneducational groups,		served as mediator in 		known by peers.

    groups, etc.)			disputes or disagreements 	

					among colleagues.  

					Comfortable taking action 

					where called for.

7.  Demonstrated Community		Identified with a group 	No involvement in cultural,

    Service.				that is cultural, racial, 	racial or geographical group or

    Has involvement in			and /or, geographic.  Has 	community.  Limited activities of

    his/her cultural			specific and long-term 		any kind.  Fringe member of 

    community.				relationships in a 		group(s).  Engages more in

					a community.  Has been		solitary rather than group

					active in  community		activities (academic or 

					activities over a period 	nonacademic).

					of time.  Has accomplished

					specific goals in 

					community setting.

8.  Knowledge Acquired			Knows about a field or area 	Appears to know little about

    in a Field.				that he/she has not formally 	areas he/she has not studied in

    Unusual and/or culturally		studied in school.  Has a 	school.  No evidence of learning

    related ways of obtaining		nontraditional, possibly	from community or nonacademic

    information and 			culturally or racially		activities.  Traditional in

    demonstrating knowledge.		based, view of a field.  	approach to learning.  Has not

    Field itself may be 		Has developed innovative 	received credit-by-examination

    nontraditional.			ways to  acquire 		for courses.  Not aware of

					information about a given 	credit-by-examination possibilities.

					subject or field.