Assessment and Ethics

Assessment and EthicsPopham (2008) suggests three reasons to explain why teachers need to know about assessment. “Test results determine public perceptions of educational effectiveness. Students’ assessment performances are increasingly seen as part of the teacher evaluation process. As clarifiers of instructional intentions, assessment devices can improve instructional quality” (p 16). In order to achieve accurate results to meet these ends, instructors need to decipher between appropriate and inappropriate uses of assessment and understand ethical assessment methods.

Assessments can be used in both appropriate and inappropriate methods. When assessments are used most efficiently and appropriately, they give the instructor an accurate picture of a student’s mastery of information or mastery of a skill. Planning and directing the curriculum and instruction is an essential component of assessment use (Popham, 2008; Washington Educational Research Association, 2010). Educators can compare students with their peers in determining overall comprehension. Such methodology directs instructors in evaluating instructional effectiveness. Students’ strengths and weaknesses are swiftly evaluated in their degree of mastery (Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 2010).

Continual checking comprehension through daily ministrations such as questioning during instructional periods guides educators to know how to direct their efforts. When assessments are effectively administered, whether formally and written or through informal means, instruction can be altered to “modify instructional units” and “more effectively target additional instruction” of “content or skills areas where there is most need” (Popham, 2008, p 102).

Inappropriate assessment use tends to lead to an inaccurate view of a student’s mastery of the content either through overestimation or underestimation of their skills or knowledge, portraying both unreliable and invalid results.  As a result of ineffective assessment techniques, instructional design will be misguided leading to two results. Instructors will either miss essential knowledge or reteach comprehended knowledge.

In preparing assessments, teachers need to be hyper-aware to follow testing ethics. Popham (2008) offers two guidelines for instructors. The first, entitled Professional Ethics, admonishes teachers that “no test-preparation should violate the ethical norms of the educational profession” (p 309). The second, called the Educational Defensibility, instructs “no test-preparation practice should increase students’ test scores without simultaneously increasing students’ master of the curricular aim tested” (p 311).

The first guideline is securely embedded within the ethics of the instructor. Teachers need to nurture students to encourage them to achieve their potentials through the fundamental ethics of society without engaging in any practices which may “discredit the education profession” (Popham, 2008, p 310). The Association of American Educators (2010) declares “we believe all educators are obligated to help foster civic virtues such as integrity, diligence, responsibility, cooperation, loyalty, fidelity, and respect-for the law, for human life, for others, and for self.”

The second guideline steers the instructor to continually remember the needs and “best interests of students” (Popham, 2008, p 311). Information should be taught to students in order to increase their knowledge and not to simply increase the scores on an exam. When properly taught, students will have a working knowledge base of information which can be applied in their lives and not simply to pass an exam.

These ethical standards will guide educators to effectively use assessments:

  • (1) Be sure to explain to students, parents and other interested parties what the test is for, how it will be given and what the results will be used for.
  • (2) Explain all pre-determined benchmarks.
  • (3) Have a complete list of all curriculum objectives details and which will be assessed.
  • (4) Review all foundational knowledge, skills.
  • (5) Ensure all students understand test skills in addition to the knowledge which will be tested.
  • (6) Receive input from other colleagues.
  • (7) Provide an adequate amount of time for the assessment.
  • (8) Carefully evaluate for any biases which may skew results.
  • (9) Ask for input from administration to all additional local guidelines of ethical practices.
  • (10) Never target knowledge and skills to be taught to a student to raise test scores without increasing a student’s knowledge base.
  • (11) Never cram material into students just before an exam to artificially raise test scores.
  • (12) Never alter student’s answers.
  • (13) Never falsify assessment reports (Popham, 2008; Washington Educational Research Association, 2010).

Effective assessment techniques can be essential tools in guiding instruction and designing teaching. Popham (2008) teaches instructors in the different kinds of instructional decisions which can be made through effective assessment. First, what to teach can be guided through assessment results especially when utilized through pre-assessment. Second, assessments can help determine the length of instruction. By administering progress-monitoring assessments such as oral querying or quizzes, instructors can determine mastery and decipher whether or not the instruction should be lengthened or shortened. Lastly, assessment can determine the “effectiveness of an instructional sequence” (Popham, 2008, pp 259-261). By following these guidelines, instruction can be modified to cater to the individual needs of students.


Association of American Educators. (downloaded 2010 April 05). Code of Ethics for Educators. [Online]. Available:

Kinney, P. (downloaded 2010 April 04). Principal Leadership. [Online.] Available:

Middle States Commission on Higher Education. (downloaded 2010 April 05). The Role of          Published Tests and Assessment in Higher Education. [Online]. Available:…/Published%20Instruments%20in%20Higher%20Education.doc

Popham, J.  (2008).  Classroom assessment:  What teachers need to know. (5th ed.).  San Francisco:  Allyn and Bacon.

Washington Educational Research Association. (downloaded 05 April 2010). Ethical Standards   in Testing: Test Preparation and Administration. [Online]. Available: www.wera-

By Tracy Atkinson

Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners. She has published several titles, including The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.

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