The Dash Group, a consulting firm, gave a grant to a Tennessee school district to use The Judgment Index, a tool that is designed to assess the judgment skills of potential school bus drivers. NTSB photo by Nicholas Worrell

The Dash Group, a consulting firm, gave a grant to a Tennessee school district to use The Judgment Index, a tool that is designed to assess the judgment skills of potential school bus drivers. NTSB photo by Nicholas Worrell

ATLANTA — In response to the November 2016 Chattanooga school bus crash that killed six children, a consulting firm is working with a school district on a program that assesses the judgment skills of potential school bus drivers.

The Dash Group, an Atlanta-based organizational consulting and coaching firm, has created a private-public partnership with the Cleveland City Schools (CCS) district in Bradley County, Tennessee, to implement the program.

Aimed at understanding the judgment skills of potential school bus drivers, the initiative grants funding to give the online Judgment Index Safety/Risk Assessment to 100 applicants. The assessment was put into place on Feb. 1.

“We have chosen this particular school district because they are showing they are already doing everything they can in terms of safety and risk, but didn’t have a strong assessment protocol for hiring drivers,” said Catherine Hickem, founder and CEO of The Dash Group.

With an enrollment of approximately 5,400 students in nine schools, CCS transports 2,448 general-education students and 80 special-needs students each school day. Upon applying, aspiring bus drivers must pass three background checks — with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, the Division of Children’s Services, and the Abuse Registry — before being interviewed. The grant will add the Judgment Index as the next step in the process.

“We’re not just looking for people who want a job,” explained Hal Taylor, director of operations for the district. “We want people who understand the responsibility and know that they are affecting someone’s life every day.”

A nationwide bus driver shortage is exacerbated in certain states, including Tennessee, where the level of funding commonly allows for part-time drivers only. Drivers may, as a result, work at least a second job, as was the case with the driver in the Chattanooga crash.

“The Dash Group felt compelled to initiate this grant because of our sadness and indignation at the useless loss of children’s lives in the Chattanooga bus accident,” Hickem added. “We believe that careless driving could be significantly reduced if school system leaders would put this assessment protocol in place to ensure their drivers have the capacity for good judgment.”

The Judgment Index, a scientific instrument that has reportedly been validated in studies and through ongoing use in business settings for four decades, was developed by Robert S. Hartman. Stewarded today by the Chattanooga-based company Judgment Index, the safety and risk assessment tool is quick and easy to use at a cost of $25 per person, according to The Dash Group. The Dash Group, which is certified to administer the tool, uses it routinely in its work with corporate clients.

“We believe that for anyone directly working with children, be they teachers or coaches, chaperones, or drivers, we need to understand the kind of judgment that may guide their actions and decisions,” said Steve Byrum, president of The Judgment Index. “It is compelling to know that National Safety Council data strongly suggests that upwards of 70% of accidents in business and industry are caused by errors in human judgment.”

The assessment is designed to reveal an individual’s beliefs and values based on two questions that ask the respondent to rank 18 topics. The resulting analysis and report is said to provide insights that point to one’s likely use of judgment on the job.

The grant is one part of a proposed Bus Driver Safety Initiative and National Qualification Protocol that has been drafted by The Dash Group. The six-point process recommends a combination of background checks, Judgment Index assessment, vehicle training, a GPS safety tracking system on board each bus, annual refresher training courses, and legislation at the state and/or federal level that sets an age limit for drivers, similar to what is in place for airline pilots, according to The Dash Group.

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