The Ethics of Assessment

global computer technology conceptThere has been a proliferation of assessment tools that have been created and made available via the Internet. They look beautiful, seem clever, appear accurate, are touted as the greatest thing since … but using them may violate ethical practice.

Using assessments with students or clients puts a huge ethical responsibility on us as career counselors, coaches, and practitioners. Selecting an assessment that does not have strong technical backing is unprofessional and unethical because it could harm your client, and because it violates our ethical principles. The assessment results could send a student or client off on a career path not right for them or make them “know” something about themselves that isn’t accurate.

What, no research? It is of utmost importance that we examine the technical information of any assessment that we use. In our field, we generally should be looking at assessments that have been supported by several research studies. Those research studies should be conducted on people with characteristics like our students and clients. We should be examining the reliability and validity evidence that is provided by the author/publisher. Some publishers don’t even provide this information; some don’t even have it. You should be very suspicious if they don’t freely offer their research evidence for you to examine. Ask for it.

Don’t let beauty betray the beast. There are many savvy publishers who have technicians that can make an assessment look very attractive seducing us to believe that the assessment is equally high quality. Some publishers are really teams of marketers who can give a convincing spin on the attributes of the assessment. Don’t let them trick you. Check out their claims. I know of some publishers in the assessment business who don’t even have any researchers or psychometricians on their staff, so you really don’t know what quality you are getting.

Who is the pitchman? As on TV, we see personalities that are pitching various products. Don’t ever forget that they are being paid to promote the product. That is true in our profession as well. Just because a person holds a certain position in our industry does not make them an expert on assessment issues, nor does it guarantee the product is quality. To paraphrase Mark Twain, many an inferior product has been made large by the right kind of marketing.

Recognizing that using high quality assessments in our work is a crucial part of professionalism, many associations and groups have developed ethical principles and standards that we are obligated to heed.  Below are a few of the most fundamental to our work in career development.

American Counseling Association Code of Ethics (2014)  Section E covers assessment. Among other statements, the code states that “counselors carefully consider the reliability, validity, and psychometric limitations and appropriateness of instruments when selecting assessments…”

National Career Development Association and the Association for Assessment in Counseling and Education’s Career Counselor Assessment and Evaluation Competencies  This paper outlines the competencies we should have if we are to properly use assessment.

Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education  This is a statement for both publishers and users of assessments. Section A, Developing and Selecting Appropriate Tests, is particularly pertinent to our work.

Global Career Development Facilitator Code of Ethics   This very general code cautions us to “avoid occupational techniques that are harmful to clients.”

Next time you find the need to use an assessment, think carefully about these ethical principles and standards. Our students and clients are entitled to our best quality efforts when helping them carve out a compatible career path.

Wall, Janet_500x500Janet E. Wall, EdD, MCDP, CDFI, SMMS, NCDA Fellow, is a career development professional in Arlington, Virginia. She is committed to the continuing education of all career counselors, coaches and specialists by providing online courses and webinars through She was the developer of the ASVAB Career Exploration Program for the Department of Defense, and was recently named a Fellow of the National Career Development Association. She is co-author of the Ability Explorer published by JIST.

Check out’s online course “Selecting the Right Assessment.” is an NBCC-approved continuing education provider.


One thought on “The Ethics of Assessment

  1. Pingback: Finding The Right Assessment | Thoughts About Career Development

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