Ethical Issues in Psychological Assessment in School Settings

Linda K.Knauss

Reviewed by Edna Davoudi, Nilo Dutton, Alexandra Lima, Boubolina Lozano, & Luky Pongquan

Article Summary


††††††††††† This section deals with the ethicality of using computer programs for the administration, scoring, and interpretation of different tests without human contact.The APA concluded that psychologists are ultimately responsible for the results and interpretation of tests, in whatever way the results were obtained. In essence, the APA has no problem with this system.

††††††††††† The main ethical problem with this issue arises when psychologists over-rely on the efficacy of computer-administered tests.Psychologists have been known to shirk their responsibilities for accurately interpreting test results; either by simply trusting the results of the computer without examining them in detail, or by even delegating the supervisory aspect of these tests to those not qualified to perform that role.

††††††††††† Moreover, not all psychologists are familiar with the instrumentality of the computerized psychological tests, so false results may be supplied.There is also the lack of individuality of computerized tests when compared to conventional tests; as well as the lack of demonstrated validity for printed interpretations of tests.There is also the issue of utilizing computer-assisted assessment to extend oneís competence beyond current boundaries.However, the purely actuarial diagnosis created by the computers may lead to more accurate diagnoses than the ones clinicians could obtain.The argument then centers on whether clinicians should trust the results of computers, or use them in tandem with clinical diagnosis.

Informed Consent:

††††††††††† This section discusses the process of parental consent and involvement in school psychological testing.School psychologists are not allowed to simply schedule children for testing and imply that because it is a part of their educational program, parental consent is not necessary.On the contrary, ethical standards and laws require that parental consent must be obtained before any testing can take place.Two forms of notifying parents are discussed.

††††††††††† Informed consent consists of providing the parents of the student to be tested with the following information, in addition to getting their written consent to start the testing process:The reason for the assessment, type of tests and evaluation procedures to be used, what assessment results will be used for, and who will have access to evaluation results.Informed consent is also required when a student is suspected of having an educational disability.

††††††††††† Notice is when the school supplies information about impending actions.Notice serves as a way to let parents know about preliminary plans, but by itself is insufficient, written informed consent must still be obtained by parents or from the student if they are of age.

††††††††††† It is also required that testing be discussed with the student, in order to enlist their cooperation.In addition to what is required for informed consent, the student must have the assessment process explained in a language or mode that suits their individual needs and understanding.Parental involvement is essential once assessment has been completed because parents and students should have the opportunity to share in the decision-making process regarding the available alternatives.

Nondiscriminatory Assessment:

††††††††††† Psychologists are obligated to select nonbiased test instruments and procedures and administer and interpret them in a way that is not racially or culturally discriminating.An example of this is college students whose native language is not English; there are many areas that must be taken into consideration when testing these students.Some considerations taken to provide nondiscriminatory assessment include, but are not limited to:not testing students in English, because this would assess their English skills, rather than something else; the need for a translator; the effect of cultural factors on test performance; taking into effect the syntax of the personís native language and separating it form their personality; whether or not the academic problems may be a result of lack of fluency in the English language; and awareness of the test bias of each test given.

Projective Tests:

Projective tests, such as the Rorschach, allow assessment of particular personality traits and emotional disorders.The results of the projective tests allow school administrations to further understand the studentís learning style based on the projective tests.†† However, there is a controversial issue as to whether projective personality assessment should be used in the school setting. Although projective tests can be helpful in identifying emotional problems and personality characteristics, there are also some limitations and setbacks that lead to the question of whether projective tests are ethical on school grounds. First, the issue of informed consent regulates the use of projective tests.For example, the results may go beyond what the psychologist had intended.For example, if the school psychologist uses projective tests to identify learning disabilities, the inkblots may reveal information that goes beyond the learning disabilities.Another limitation involves the invasion of privacy for the student.Projective tests are indirect, and can contain information that is not applicable to his or her learning disability.Moreover, the test report may include the personal information that is open and can be reviewed by staff, parents, guardians, eligible students, and legal professionals.Another issue involves the competency of the interpreter.For many training programs for school psychologist, the use ofprojective tests are usually an elective course, not required.Lastly, the validity of the projective tests should always be taken into consideration.

As a result, the projective tests can allow school psychologists to open the door to understanding the student, but at the cost of the privacy, consent, and possible misinterpretation of the results.


School psychologists face many ethical questions in their line of work.They are responsible for making sure that the rights of the student are protected at all times, by getting written informed consent from parents.Psychologists must also be aware of the different issues involved in nondiscriminatory assessment, projective personality assessment, and computerized assessment.Psychologists are ultimately responsible for the interpretations they make.