Assessment Process

Assessment Process

Assessment involves gathering and documenting information about a client’s knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs in a systematic manner. It is an essential part of counselor preparation, involving the review, selection, administration, and interpretation of evaluative procedures. Various assessment tools are available, and it is recommended to use multiple procedures when making decisions about client diagnosis and treatment. Here are some commonly used evaluative procedures:

Clinical interviewingStructured, semi-structured, and unstructured 
Informal assessmentObservation of behavior, rating scales, classification techniques, records, and personal documents
Personality assessmentStandardized tests (e.g., MMPI), projective tests (e.g., TAT), and interest inventories (e.g., Strong Interest Inventory)
Ability assessmentAchievement tests (e.g., WRAT), aptitude tests (e.g., SAT), and intelligence tests (e.g., WISC)

In the remainder of this first section, we discuss the key events critical to understanding the field of modern assessment, primary functions of and terminology used in assessment, ethical and legal issues associated with assessment, and sources that provide information on a wide variety of assessment tools.

1. Types of Assessments

Assessments are designed to prevent test-takers from achieving perfect scores in order to differentiate between individuals and recognize their unique abilities and characteristics. Here are the key points for each type of assessment:

  • Power tests

These tests incorporate challenging items that are difficult to answer correctly. They assess the test-taker’s performance across varying levels of difficulty, regardless of time constraints or speed of response. Power tests focus on how well individuals can perform on tasks of different complexities.

  • Speed tests

In contrast to power tests, speed tests place a time limit on the test-taker. They typically consist of easier questions but include a larger number of items than can be answered within the allotted time. Speed tests assess how quickly individuals can understand the questions and select the correct answers, emphasizing efficiency and time management.

  • Maximal and typical performance tests

Maximal performance tests aim to determine the test-taker’s best achievable score or performance. They are often used in achievement and aptitude assessments to measure the individual’s highest level of competence. On the other hand, typical performance tests focus on evaluating the individual’s characteristic or normal performance, providing insights into their typical behaviors or personality traits.

  • Standardized tests

These assessments are designed to ensure consistency in administration, test content, scoring procedures, and interpretation. They follow predetermined instructions and scoring methods, undergo rigorous empirical validation, and provide a degree of validity and reliability. Standardized tests allow for the comparison of an individual’s test score to a norm group, establishing where they stand relative to others. Examples include the SAT and GRE.

  • Nonstandardized tests

Nonstandardized tests offer flexibility in administration, scoring, and interpretation. They do not allow for direct comparison of an individual’s score to a norm group. Instead, professional counselors rely on their judgment and expertise to interpret the test data. Nonstandardized tests, such as projective personality measures like the Rorschach inkblot test or the Thematic Apperception Test, may vary depending on the scoring and interpretive methods used.

  • Individual tests

These assessments are administered to one examinee at a time. Individual tests enable professional counselors to establish rapport with the test-taker and closely monitor factors that may influence their performance, such as fatigue or anxiety. However, individual testing is more time-consuming for the practitioner and can be costly for the client.

  • Group tests

Group tests are administered to multiple test-takers simultaneously. They often utilize objective scoring methods and have established norms for comparison. Group tests offer a more economical approach to test administration and scoring, simplifying the process for the examiner. However, client responses may be more limited, and the administration lacks the flexibility of individual testing.

  • Objective tests

These assessments provide consistency in administration and scoring to minimize the influence of the examiner’s personal beliefs or biases. Objective tests include questions that have a single correct answer, such as multiple-choice, true or false, or matching questions. The scoring is based on the objective criteria defined for each item.

  • Subjective tests

In contrast to objective tests, subjective tests are sensitive to the beliefs of both the rater (examiner) and the examinee. They employ open-ended questions that may have multiple correct answers or various ways of expressing the correct answer. Subjective tests, such as essay questions, allow for more interpretive and nuanced responses.

2. Assessment Terminology in Counseling

Measurement in counseling involves defining and quantifying human attributes and behaviors. It is based on three key assumptions:

  • Human attributes and behaviors can be objectively defined and measured.
  • All individuals possess these attributes and behaviors to some degree.
  • The presence or absence of specific attributes and behaviors in certain situations can indicate normality or deficiency.

The act of measuring involves the use of a measurement instrument, such as a test, survey, or inventory.

AssessmentAssessment is a broader concept that involves the systematic process of collecting and documenting client information.
TestA test is a specific component of assessment that generates data based on the examinee’s responses to test items.The terms assessment and test are often confused and used interchangeably.
InterpretationInterpretation is an integral part of the assessment process where the professional counselor assigns meaning to the data obtained from evaluative procedures. Meaning can be derived by comparing an individual to their peer group, using predefined standards or criteria, or relying on the professional counselor’s judgment.
EvaluationEvaluation involves making judgments about the value or significance of a measurement outcome. For example, a professional counselor can assess a client’s progress in counseling by examining their monthly scores on the Beck Depression Inventory. Evaluation is used by professional counselors to assess client progress and to determine the effectiveness of interventions, programs, and services in promoting client change.

3. Key Legal Issues in Assessment

Professional counselors must not only adhere to the ethical guidelines and testing standards set by their respective professional organizations, but they must also be knowledgeable about and comply with relevant federal and state laws and regulations governing assessment practices. These laws have a significant impact on the field of assessment. Here is a summary of key public laws pertaining to testing practices.

Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1972, 1978, and 1991 amendmentsAssessments used to determine employability must relate strictly to the duties outlined in the job description and cannot discriminate based on race, color, religion, pregnancy, gender, or origin.
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)Ensures the confidentiality of student test records by restricting access to scores. At the same time, this law affirms the rights of both student and parent to view student records.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA)Confirms students’ right to receive testing and accommodations for disabilities at public school expense, including individualized education plans (IEPs) for optimized learning.
The Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1984.The Carl D. Perkins Act provides vocational services for various disadvantaged groups, including those with disabilities, limited English proficiency, and individuals in nontraditional occupations.
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)Employment testing must measure job abilities accurately and accommodate individuals with disabilities during test administration.
Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996Secures the privacy of client records by requiring agencies to obtain client consent before releasing records to others. HIPAA also grants clients access to their records.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001No Child Left Behind improves U.S. schools by raising accountability standards and mandating assessments in basic skills for all students. Court cases have also set legal guidelines for assessment practices.
Larry P. v. Riles (1974, 1979, 1984)Court ruling found biased intelligence tests overrepresented African American children in disability programs. Counselors must use nondiscriminatory, valid assessment tools.
Diana v. California State Board of Education (1973, 1979)This case settled out of court and mandates tests in students’ first language to reduce linguistic bias. Professional counselors must provide testing information in the client’s first language.
Sharif v. New York State Educational Department (1989)Ruled that SAT scores alone could not be used to determine scholarship awards. Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971). Ruled that assessments used in the job hiring and promotion process must be job related.
Bakke v. Regents of the University of California (1978)Barred the use of quota systems for minority admissions procedures in U.S. colleges and universities.
Soroka et al. v. Dayton-Hudson Company (1991)The settlement contested preemployment psychological screening as a privacy violation, sparking ongoing controversy over the value of personality tests in job performance assessment.

4. Assessment Process in Counseling

The use of client assessment in counseling serves several key purposes:

  • Diagnosis and treatment planning

Assessment helps professional counselors make informed clinical and treatment decisions by gathering client information. Accurate diagnosis of client problems often requires the use of assessment tools such as structured interviews and diagnostic systems, enabling counselors to identify psychological symptoms and their impact on client functioning.

  • Placement services

Additional assessment procedures may be employed to determine the most suitable program or service for a diagnosed client.

  • Admission

Assessments are commonly used to assess eligibility for educational institutions.

  • Selection

Assessments assist in the selection process for special programs or job positions.

  • Monitoring client progress

Assessment is an ongoing process in counseling, not limited to initial diagnosis and placement. Professional counselors have the responsibility to monitor client progress throughout therapy, using informal assessments and client self-reporting. Regular client self-report ratings can help assess progress towards counseling goals.

  • Evaluating counseling outcomes

With increased accountability in managed care, professional counselors are expected to demonstrate the effectiveness of counseling treatments and document positive outcomes. Evaluation of counseling outcomes ensures that counseling is an effective intervention leading to client improvement.

Outcome research in counseling aims to evaluate the effectiveness of counseling and identify factors contributing to client change. Whiston outlines a five-step process for evaluating counseling outcomes:

  • Define the focus of the evaluation study

Professional counselors determine what specific aspect of counseling they want to evaluate, such as a particular service, treatment, or program.

  • Choose an evaluation design

Counselors select a design to evaluate outcomes, often using a pretest-posttest approach where clients are assessed before and after a counseling intervention. Qualitative designs, involving participant interviews, can also be used.

  • Select participants

Counselors decide which clients will participate in the evaluation study, considering factors such as random sampling or specific client populations, to ensure diverse perspectives and enhance the study’s validity.

  • Choose assessments

Counselors determine which assessments will be used to measure counseling outcomes. Existing assessments with strong validity and reliability, focusing on symptoms and tracking changes over time, are commonly employed. Customized surveys may also be developed for specific studies.

  • Analyze the data

Once data on counseling outcomes is collected, professional counselors analyze it to determine the effectiveness of counseling. Quantitative data is analyzed for statistical significance, indicating effectiveness, while qualitative data involves coding and analysis of participant narratives and themes.

As a professional counselor, it is crucial to emphasize that assessment and evaluation procedures focus on client strengths, wellness characteristics, and areas of growth.

5. Standards of Practice for Assessment in Counseling

Professional organizations have established assessment standards to guide counselors in the responsible development and use of psychological assessments. Familiarity with these standards is crucial for counselors.

  • Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing

The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, developed by AERA, APA, and the National Council on Measurement in Education, provide guidelines for ethical test use. They cover test development, evaluation, and testing for individuals with disabilities and diverse linguistic backgrounds.

  • The Responsibilities of Users of Standardized Tests

The Responsibilities of Users of Standardized Tests (RUST; 3rd edition) is a policy statement by the Association for Assessment and Research in Counseling (AARC, 2003). RUST aims to ensure that ACA members use standardized tests accurately, fairly, and responsibly. Test-user responsibilities under RUST include:

  • Qualifications: Test-users must possess appropriate education, training, and experience in test selection, administration, scoring, interpretation, reporting, and communication of results.
  • Technical knowledge: Test-users should demonstrate knowledge of test validity, reliability, measurement error, scores, and norms.
  • Test selection: Test-users must align the selected test with a specific purpose and consider factors such as test-taker characteristics, scoring accuracy, norming procedures, modifications, and fairness.
  • Test administration: Test administrators follow standardized procedures to ensure proper use of the test and create optimal test environments for test-takers.
  • Test scoring: Test-users score assessments accurately and consistently, with regular auditing of scoring procedures.
  • Interpreting test results: Test-users consider technical aspects of the test, test results, and their limitations, taking into account psychometric, test-taker, and contextual factors that influence the legitimacy and usefulness of results.
  • Communicating test results: Test-users interpret and explain test results to clients, ensuring their understanding, discussing interpretation possibilities, and outlining limitations of those interpretations.
  • The Joint Committee on Testing Practices (JCTP)

The Joint Committee on Testing Practices (JCTP) was established in 1985 by AERA, APA, NCME, and other organizations. It published documents on testing standards in education, psychology, and counseling. Notable publications include Rights and Responsibilities of Test Takers, Test User Qualifications, and the Code for Fair Testing Practices in Education:

  • Rights and Responsibilities of Test Takers outlines test-takers’ rights and responsibilities, including knowing the purpose of testing and following test instructions.
  • Test User Qualifications establishes guidelines for responsible test use and qualifications in specific contexts.
  • The Code of Fair Testing Practices ensures fair testing for all individuals and provides guidance in test development, administration, reporting, and informing test-takers.
  • The Fair Access Coalition on Testing (FACT)

The Fair Access Coalition on Testing (FACT) is a non-profit organization established in 1996 to ensure fair access to testing instruments for qualified professionals. They provide education and advocacy services to professionals impacted by assessment restrictions. FACT can organize allies and testify on behalf of professionals whose assessment rights have been denied. The goals of FACT include:

  • Increase public awareness of the need for fair access to testing by qualified professionals.
  • Monitor state and national legislation and regulatory actions to assure that all qualified professionals are permitted to administer test instruments.
  • Facilitate communication among the public, members, and other concerned parties regarding fair access to testing issues and activities.
  • Provide current information to members and other concerned parties concerning fair access to testing issues.
  • Develop and promote appropriate ethical standards, and standards of practice and legislation related to testing and assessment.

Overview of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.

Part I. Test Construction, Evaluation, and DocumentationPart II. Fairness in TestingPart III. Testing Applications
ValidityReliability and Errors of MeasurementTest Development and RevisionScales, Norms, and Score ComparabilityTest Administration, Scoring, and Reporting6. Supporting Documentation for TestsFairness in Testing and Test UseThe Rights and Responsibilities of Test-TakersTesting Individuals of Diverse Linguistic BackgroundsTesting Individuals with DisabilitiesThe Responsibilities of Test UsersPsychological Testing and AssessmentEducational Testing and AssessmentTesting in Employment and CredentialingTesting in Program Evaluation and Public Policy