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Ethics and Assessments: An Analysis of Test Selection and Participant Feedback
Daniel G. Kuchinka
Testing and Assessment in Workplace Psychology
Ethics and Assessments
In this paper, we will consider and assess different ethical codes of conduct and describe why they are important in an assessment process. For our discussion, assessment is defined as psychological tests used for selection purposes in the workplace. Ethics is a broad subject with varying definitions and meaning typically referring to immoral, unfair, or illegal activities. Codes of conduct are common and often identify relevant and important issues unique to the mission of an organization. For our discussion, ethical codes of conduct are defined using a composite list provided by Cook & Cripps (2005). We will focus on ethical issues specific to planning assessments and providing feedback. When reviewing the following information, keep in mind that while specific ethical guidelines and practices of assessment are well documented and some examples will be identified, debate remains concerning many of the important details (Levinson, 2002). These details will be identified and explained as we progress through the following ethical codes of conduct.
When planning an assessment, one of the first activities a psychologist will encounter that poses an ethical consideration is choosing an appropriate assessment. Cook and Cripps (2005, p. 321) describe “several issues including making sure the assessment is job related, does not show group bias, is not unduly intrusive, and does not cause unnecessary stress to applicants”. When examining each of these examples, we can develop an appreciation for the complexity of ethical issues and reasons for debate as previously described. To make sure an assessment is job related, a psychologist will often perform a job analysis and investigate several assessments to make sure an appropriate test is used. This would include reviewing the reliability and validity of the test, as well as understanding the population the test is designed for based on the publisher’s recommendations. Although simply making a poor choice of assessment does not necessarily constitute unethical behavior.
Some may view choosing a poor or inappropriate assessment as unethical because the psychologist should not be able to use ignorance as an excuse for his or her decision. However, Cook and Cripps may view a poor decision as a waste of time but not necessarily unethical. What would likely be viewed as unethical behavior would be a psychologist who knowingly chooses an assessment that is not job related. As an example, a test might be chosen that measures aptitude towards the English language for a job that does not require significant knowledge of English (e.g., assembly line worker). If the psychologist intentionally chose the test because he or she does not want to hire individuals that speak English as a second language, the decision would likely be viewed as unethical. However, even though this example may be clearly an ethical violation to many, some may still claim it was not an ethical violation. As an example, they may claim a common language of English is important for safety reasons. This example briefly demonstrates the complex nature of ethics and assessment.
After an assessment is completed, a common ethical code of conduct recommends providing feedback to the test taker (American Psychological Association, 1996; Cook and Cripps, 2005). For the organization using an assessment as part of the selection process, this means a qualified individual who has access to the test results is ethically responsible for explaining those results to the applicant who completed the assessment. In the “Statement on the Disclosure of Test Data” created by the Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessments of the American Psychological Association (1996), psychologists and their employing organizations or institutions have an ethical obligation to disclose an individual’s test results. This obligation can also be legally mandated or included in the policy and procedures specific to the organization administering the assessment.
Perceptions of fairness towards the assessment process and those conducting the tests can be negative if not effectively administered (Schinkel, van Dierendonck, and Anderson, 2004). Administering an invalid assessment may be a waste of time and for this reason not unethical as Cook and Cripps (2005) describe, the negative consequences on the individual being tested is what constitutes this action as unethical. Fletcher describes the experience of going through an assessment process and how subsequently being rejected can also have negative effects on self-esteem (1991). Although research could not be found pertaining to an absence of feedback (i.e., applicant completing an assessment and never receiving any feedback), it is likely not knowing anything about the test results would also yield negative consequences. It is for this reason additional research needs to be conducted with the absence of assessment feedback as a variable.
The purpose of the previous discussion was to demonstrate the complexity of ethical codes of conduct and assessment during the selection process. Literature is common that describes the various forms of ethical violations during the planning and feedback stages of an assessment. To make things more complicated, Schinkel, van Dierendonck, and Anderson (2004) describe perceptions of fairness that can be negative even when ethically administered. However, because ethics and assessment can be debatable topics, the application of ethical codes of conduct can be difficult. Psychologists need to consider the negative impact they can have on the lives of the individuals who participate in the assessment process. Perhaps it is the impact on others that can help psychologists determine what is ethical or not based on the significance of the outcome of their decisions.
American Psychological Association, Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessments (1996). Statement on the disclosure of test data. American Psychologist, 51(6), 644-648. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.51.6.644
Fletcher, C. (1991). Candidates’ reactions to assessment centres and their outcomes: A longitudinal study. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 64(2), 117-127.
Levinson, H. (2002). Ethical problems and consulting guidelines. In H. Levinson (Ed.), Organizational assessment: A step-by-step guide to effective consulting. (pp. 13-39). Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10453-002
Cook, M., & Cripps, B. (2005). Psychological assessment in the workplace: A manager’s guide. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
Schinkel, S., van Dierendonck, D., & Anderson, N. (2004). The impact of selection encounters on applicants: An experimental study into feedback effects after a negative selection decision. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 12(1-2), 197-205. doi:10.1111/j.0965-075X.2004.00274.x