Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education

The Joint Committee on Testing Practices has developed the Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education for professionals who develop or use educational tests. The code presents standards to safeguard the rights of test takers in four areas: developing or selecting tests; interpreting scores; striving for fairness; and informing test takers. The code states the major obligations to test takers of professionals who develop or use educational tests. It applies broadly to the use of tests in education (admissions, educational assessment, educational diagnosis and student placement).

The code is not designed to cover employment testing, licensure or certification testing, or other types of testing. Although the code has relevance to many types of educational tests, it is directed primarily at professionally developed tests such as those sold by commercial test publishers or used in formally administered testing programs. It is not intended to cover tests made by individual teachers for use in their own classrooms.

The code addresses the roles of test developers and test users separately. Test users are people who select tests, commission test development services, or make decisions on the basis of test scores. Test developers are people who actually construct tests as well as those who set policies for particular testing programs. The roles may, of course, overlap as when a state educational agency commissions test development services, sets policies that control the test development process and makes decisions on the basis of test scores.

The Joint Committee on Testing Practices is a cooperative effort of several professional organizations directed toward the advancement, in the public interest, of the quality of testing practices. The committee was initiated by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education. In addition to these three groups, the American Association for Counseling and Development/Association for Measurement and Evaluation in Counseling and Development and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association are now sponsors of the committee.

This is not copyrighted material. Reproduction and dissemination are encouraged. Please city this document as follows:

Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education. (1988) Washington, D.C.: Joint Committee on Testing Practices. (Mailing Address: Joint Committee on Testing Practices, American Psychological Association, 1200 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20036)

Organizations, institutions and individual professionals, who endorse the code, commit themselves to safeguarding the rights of test takers by following the principles listed. The code is intended to be consistent with the relevant parts of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (AERA, APA, NCME, 1985). However, the code differs from the standards in both audience and purpose. The code is meant to be understood by the general public; it is limited to educational tests; and the primary focus is on those issues that affect the proper use of tests. The Code is not meant to add new principles over and above those in the standards or to change the meaning of the standards. The goal is rather to represent the spirit of a selected portion of the standards in a way that is meaningful to test takers and/or their parents or guardians. It is the joint committee's intention that the code remains consistent with existing codes of conduct and standards of other professional groups who use educational tests.

Developing/Selecting Appropriate Tests

Test developers should provide the information that test users need to select appropriate tests.
Test developers should:

  • Define what each test measures and what the test should be used for. Describe the population(s) for which the test is appropriate.
  • Accurately represent the characteristics, usefulness and limitations of tests for its intended purposes.
  • Explain relevant measurement concepts as necessary for clarity at the level of detail that is appropriate for the intended audience(s).
  • Describe the process of test development. Explain how the content and skills to be tested were selected.
  • Provide evidence that the test meets its intended purpose(s).
  • Provide either representative samples or complete copies of test questions, directions, answer sheets, manuals and score reports to qualified users.
  • Indicate the nature of the evidence obtained concerning the appropriateness of each test for groups of different racial, ethnic, or linguistic backgrounds who are likely to be tested.
    Identify and publish any specialized skills needed to administer each test and to interpret scores correctly.
  • Test users should select tests that meet the purpose for which they are to be used and that are appropriate for the intended test-taking populations.

Test users should:

  • First define the purpose for testing and the population to be tested. Then, select a test for that purpose and that population based on a thorough review of the available information.
    Investigate potentially useful sources of information, in addition to test scores, to corroborate the information provided by tests.
  • Read the materials provided by test developers and avoid using tests for which unclear or incomplete information is provided.
  • Become familiar with how and when the test was developed and tried out.
  • Read independent evaluations of a test and of possible alternative measures. Look for evidence required to support the claims of test developers.
  • Examine specimen sets, disclosed tests or samples of questions, directions, answer sheets, manuals and score reports before selecting a test.
  • Ascertain whether the test content and norm group(s) or comparison group(s) are appropriate for the intended test takers.
  • Select and use only those tests for which the skills needed to administer the test and interpret scores correctly are available.

Many of the statements in the Code refer to the selection of existing tests. However, in customized testing programs, test developers are engaged to construct new tests. In those situations, the test development process should be designed to help ensure that the completed tests will be in compliance with the Code.

Interpreting Scores

Test developers should help users interpret scores correctly.
Test developers should:

  • Provide timely and easily understood score reports that describe test performance clearly and accurately. Also, explain the meaning and limitations of reported scores.
  • Describe the population(s) represented by any norms or comparison group(s), the dates the data were gathered and the process used to select the samples of test takers.
  • Warn users to avoid specific, reasonably anticipated misuses of test scores.
  • Provide information that will help users follow reasonable procedures for setting passing scores when it is appropriate to use such scores with the test.
  • Provide information that will help users gather evidence to show that the test is meeting its intended purpose(s).
  • Test users should interpret scores correctly.

Test users should:

  • Obtain information about the scale used for reporting scores, the characteristics of any norm or comparison group(s) and the limitations of the scores.
  • Interpret scores taking into account any major differences between the norm or comparison groups and the actual test takers. Also take into account any differences in test administration practices or familiarity with the specific questions in the test.
  • Avoid using tests for purposes not specifically recommended by the test developer, unless evidence is obtained to support the intended use.
  • Explain how any passing scores were set and gather evidence to support the appropriateness of the scores.
  • Obtain evidence to help show that the test is meeting its intended purpose(s).

Striving for Fairness

Test developers should strive to make tests that are as fair as possible for test takers of different races, gender, ethnic backgrounds, or different handicapping conditions.
Test developers should:

  • Review and revise test questions and related materials to avoid potentially insensitive content or language.
  • Investigate the performance of test takers of different races, gender and ethnic backgrounds when samples of sufficient size are available. Enact procedures that help to ensure that differences in performance are related primarily to the skills under assessment rather than to irrelevant factors.
  • When feasible, make appropriately modified forms of tests or administration procedures available for test takers with handicapping conditions. Ware test users of potential problems in using standard norms with modified tests or administration procedures that will result in non-comparable scores.
  • Test users should select tests that have been developed in ways that attempt to make them as fair as possible for test takers of different races, gender, ethnic backgrounds, or handicapping conditions.

Test users should:

  • Evaluate the procedures used by test developers to avoid potentially insensitive content or language.
  • Review the performance of test takers of different races, gender and ethnic backgrounds, when samples of sufficient size are available. Evaluate the extent to which performance differences may have been caused of the test.
  • When necessary and feasible, use appropriately modified forms or administration procedures for test takers with handicapping conditions. Interpret standard norms with care in the light of the modifications that were made.

Informing Test Takers

Under some circumstances, test developers have direct communication with test takers. Under other circumstances, test users communicate directly with test takers. Whichever group communicates directly with test takers should provide the information described below.
Test developers or test users should:

  • When a test is optional, provide test takers or their parents/guardians with information to help them judge whether the test should be taken, or if an available alternative to the test should be used.
  • Provide test takers the information they need to be familiar with the coverage of the test, the types of question formats, the directions and appropriate test-taking strategies. Strive to make such information equally available to all test takers.

Test developers or test users should:

  • Provide test takers or their parents/guardians with information about rights test takers may have to obtain copies of tests and completed answer sheets, retake tests, have tests rescored, or cancel scores.
  • Tell test takers or their parents/guardians how long scores will be kept on file and indicate to whom and under what circumstances test scores will or will not be released.
  • Describe the procedures that test takers or their parents/guardians may use to register complaints and have problems resolved.

Note: The membership of the Working Group that developed the Code of Fair Testing Practices in Education and of the Join Committee on Testing Practices that guided the

Working Group

  • Theodore P. Bartell
  • John R. Bergan
  • Esther E. Diamond
  • Richard P. Duran
  • Lorrrain D. Eyde
  • Raymond D. Fowler
  • John J. Fremer (Co-chair, JCTP, Chair, Code Working Group)
  • Edmund W. Gordon
  • Jo-Ida C. Hansen
  • James B. Lingwall
  • George F. Madaus (Co-chair, JCTP)
  • Kevin L. Moreland
  • Jo-Ellen V. Perez
  • Robert J. Solomon
  • John T. Stewart
  • Carol Kehr Tittle (Co-chair, JCTP)
  • Nicholas A. Vace
  • Michael J. Zieky

Debra Boltas and Wayne Camara of the American Psychological Association served as staff liaisons.  Prepared by the Joint Committee on Testing Practices. Additional copies of the Code may be obtained from the National Council on Measurement in Education, 1230 Seventeenth Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036. Single copies are free.

Last Modified: 7/14/2014 2:19:36 PM