Ethical Standards for a Standardized Test

Cheating can thwart the goals of standardized testing.
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Standardized tests affect educational standards and opportunities at almost every level. Elementary schoolers may be required to take standardized tests prior to moving to the next grade or in an attempt to measure their progress. High schoolers take these tests to get into college and, in some states, to graduate high school, while college students may take these tests to get into graduate or professional school. For standardized tests to provide reliable information about student achievement and ability, instructors, graders and test designers must behave ethically.

1 Cheating

Cheating undermines the validity and usefulness of standardized tests. In Atlanta, some public school teachers and administrators are facing prosecution for allegedly altering students' test answers, and in New York, authorities discovered a large SAT cheating ring in 2011. Policies that prevent cheating are key for maintaining the ethics of standardized testing. Teachers should never give out test questions in advance, and students should be carefully monitored by a qualified proctor as they take the test. Clear penalties for cheating and supervision of everyone who handles the test -- including teachers -- can help reduce the likelihood that someone will change a student's test answers.

2 Confidentiality

Test administrators have to follow the confidentiality policies of their school district or the testing organization with which they work. Generally this means they can't reveal identifying information about a student or her score to unauthorized parties such as other students. They also can't mention a student's test score publicly or berate a student for doing poorly on the test.

3 Testing Bias

For as long as there have been standardized tests, researchers and advocacy groups have expressed concern about testing bias. Cultural bias can lower the scores of minority groups. For example, presenting a math problem that involves objects with which underprivileged children might not be familiar -- such as esoteric types of silverware or yachts -- can alter their performance. Stereotype threat can also undermine performance. Students who are reminded of stereotypes about their group -- such as when girls are told that girls aren't good at math -- tend to conform to those stereotypes, according to a 2012 study published in "Educational Psychologist." Testing organizations must take precautions to minimize these types of biases, and major standardize testing organizations such as the College Board frequently revise their tests to eliminate potential sources of bias.

4 Proper Test Usage

Testing administrators should only administer updated tests, not older versions of the test. Similarly, tests should only be used for their intended purpose. A teacher can't give students who do well on a graduation test a higher grade, for example, or lower the grades of students who underperform. After a test is administered, testing centers and teachers cannot use that test to help students prepare for a future test without permission from the testing organization.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.