Test-Takers "Rights": More of the Same

General Testing

This fall, the Joint Committee on Testing Practices (JCTP), a national alliance of test-makers, administrators and users, released a draft of Test Taker Rights and Responsibilities which keeps the testing industry firmly in charge. The American Counseling Association, American Psychological Association, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Council on Measurement in Education participated in the drafting.


As its title states, the draft is a listing of rights which the JCTP believes test-takers are entitled to when faced with professionally developed tests such as those sold by commercial test publishers or used in formally administered testing programs as well as the responsibilities that accrue to test-takers in such situations.


Though JCTP claims the document is designed to improve, in the public interest, the quality of testing practices, it's not hard to see whose interest it really serves. The rights granted to test-takers are minimal and consist, for the most part, of the right to receive information. Since no neutral party is mentioned, it can be assumed that most of the information test-takers receive will come from the instruments manufacturers, hardly an unbiased source of data about test use and procedures.


Even at this basic level, the 10 rights listed contain little specificity. The few legal protections which test-takers now have, e.g., provisions within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission Guidelines, Truth-in-Testing laws and the Buckley Amendment, are not incorporated into the document at all. With regard to special needs, the draft only indicates that test-takers have the right to request reasonable accommodations in test administration. It makes no mention of the ADA's requirement that accommodations be provided.


The words reasonable and in some situations occur many times, always without definition, in referring to, for example, which questions test-takers have a right to ask and when test-takers may request a second opinion as to the interpretation of their scores. Test-takers are also told that they should only be tested when they have given informed consent, except when testing is mandated by law. Consent, however, may be implied by an action you have already taken, such as applying for a job which requires an employment exam. True informed consent loses its meaning under such circumstances.


The last right accorded test-takers says they can present concerns about the testing process and receive information about procedures used to resolve them. In most cases, however, such procedures are defined by the testmakers, who serve as prosecutor, judge and jury when scores or practices are questioned. No right to an independent arbiter is included.


The 10 responsibilities of test-takers are equally simplistic and include such things as following the examiner's instructions, representing oneself honestly, knowing when the test will be given, arriving prepared, and assuring that administrative fees are paid. The first responsibility listed instructs test-takers to read and/or listen to their rights and responsibilities - things over which they have no control and in whose development they have had no say.


In fact, the only people with any say are those with a vested interest in the testing process. There is no public oversight or control built into the process.


As is the case withmost such documents, there also is no enforcement provision whatsoever to ensure that even these vague and minimal guidelines are followed by the testmakers and those who use their products. There are no sanctions whatsoever. Without public scrutiny and a mechanism for enforcement, this document does nothing to change the essential power relationship that exists in the practice of testing.


Until real public oversight and meaningful enforcement exist, the JCTP s Test Takers Rights and Responsibilities, like so many documents before it, is merely an elaborate effort to restate the current, unfair status quo in which test-makers write the rules and interpret them, and also write the guidelines for the behavior of test-takers. Under such a system, test-takers have no real rights at all.


Available from Heather Roberts, Testing and Assessment Officer, American Psychological Association, 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002; (202) 336-6000.