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Guidelines for assessing South African kids

24 July 2013

± minute read

    Guidelines for assessing South African kids
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 In this post I will highlight some important considerations you need to be aware of when assessing kids with psychometric instruments in South Africa. Whether international educational tools are being used and adapted in South Africa; or new South African tools are being developed, ethical consideration remains important. Since psychological assessment in the multicultural context of South Africa is such a controversial and complex issue, ethical guidelines should in no instance whatsoever be neglected. Ethical consideration aids to increase the fairness of psychological assessment across cultures (Foxcroft, 2011). This article aims at refreshing professionals’ insight on ethics and general assessment considerations in the field of educational psychology. The core ethical consideration, according to Foxcroft (2011), is to prevent all possibilities of causing harm to the testee during testing and assessment. Furthermore, the professional needs to be aware of any possible power difference between himself and the testee. At no stage should a testee be affected negatively or feel disempowered because of unfair or unethical testing practice. According to The International Guidelines for Test Use, developed by the International Test Commission (2001, p. 7), the professional should therefore “use tests appropriately, professionally, and with an ethical manner, paying due regard to the needs and rights of those involved in the testing process, and the broader context in which the testing takes place”. Foxcroft, Paterson, Le Roux, and Herbst (2004) furthermore state that consideration needs to be given to; defining the ethical use of psychological tests (including consent, matters of confidentiality, etc.), registration of psychological tests and the use of unregistered tests (as listed or not listed by the HPCSA), inadequate policy implication and monitoring, and the correct level of training of certain tests (including the professional’s scope of practice). Acting as an ethical guideline, the Employment Equity Act No.55 of 1998 states that; “Psychological testing and other similar forms or assessment of an employee are prohibited unless the test or assessment being used; has been scientifically shown to be valid and reliable; can be applied fairly to all employees; is not biased against any employee or group.” This too should be applied in the educational context, regarding the multicultural South African school settings and related issues. 


In a study conducted by Foxcroft et. al (2004), professionals’ need for guidelines were identified, especially with regards to when and how a test should be used, possible factors influencing interpretation, as well as the importance of feedback. The following guidelines aim to inform professionals in their own practice of psychological and educational assessment in a multicultural context.

Before the assessment process starts:

  • Consideration needs to be given with regards to where and when the assessment takes place. Factors such as school schedules, extramural schedules, parent availability, transport, accessibility, etc. might differ across cultures.
  • As an assessment practitioner, the professional needs to be aware of the influence he/she might have on the assessment process (Foxcroft et. al, 2004). The professional needs to be aware of the differences between his/her own culture, and any possible beliefs about the child’s culture, language, religion etc.
  • Continual development and training in assessments is important. While the professional needs to be qualified and confident in using tests technically, he/she also needs to apply training information gained on multicultural assessments (Paterson & Uys, 2005).
  • Where possible the professional needs to assist and support the development of culture-specific norms and new South African tests (Paterson & Uys, 2005). Being involved in a data collecting project is an example.
  • In the case of developing South African tools, issues such as the following need to be considered: purpose of the test, target population, defining the constructs and their cross-cultural meaningfulness, content development and test specification, administration and scoring methods (Foxcroft, 2004).

During the assessment:

  • When possible, appropriate tests and norms should be used.
  • Any negative feelings about the assessment process should be eliminated as far as possible. Providing a trusting, respectful environment while using effective interpersonal skills, should increase the child’s co-operation and belief in the assessment process (Paterson & Uys, 2005).
  • Assistance should be offered throughout the assessment process. Different cultures have different views about asking for assistance. Therefore the professional needs to confirm with the child whether he/she requires further assistance or not, especially during group testing. This links with confirming clarity of instructions (Foxcroft, 2011).
  • Test results must be interpreted with sensitivity and consideration to background factors such as culture, family background, level of education, literacy levels and level of test-wiseness (Foxcroft, 2011).
  • When an international developed test is used, the professional needs to remain aware of the implications. Interpretation should be done with caution.
  • Consideration should be given to the demographics, and how representative a national South African norm group is to the child being assessed. I.e. how representative is the South African norm group of an Indian, English speaking child being assessed in the Northern Cape? (Bartram, 2008).
  • Test results can and should be combined with personalised and collaborative sources of information. Test results should not be interpreted and reported on in isolation. According to Foxcroft (1997), this is especially necessary in the multicultural South African context.
  • Test results should be used to plan a unique and dynamic intervention plan. The professional needs to approach assessment as a process, which requires constant evaluation and adjustment (of such an intervention plan).
  • The child’s current state and physical challenges have to be considered. The possibility of a child being ill, traumatized, tired, hungry, HIV positive, etc. should not be overlooked during test administration and assessment. This should also be considered during test interpretation.
  • Meaningful feedback needs to be provided on an understandable level, to parents, teachers, other role players, as well as the child him/herself, when needed. Considering literacy levels of involved parties, oral feedback might be more meaningful than written feedback (Foxcroft, 2011).
  • In therapeutic assessment feedback, the professional should begin with interpretations that are more consistent with the child’s self-views before moving on to those that challenge him/her (Lilienfield, Garb & Wood, 2011). 

After the assessment process:

Adapting and applying assessments to our multicultural context remains a complex task. Continuous research is necessary while working towards the implementation and availability of tests that can be used equitably (Paterson & Uys, 2005).  As professionals, we need to be realistic about this major task, join hands in working towards the goal, and take responsibility for how assessment and tests are used in our country.

Reference list:

Bartram, D. (2008). Global norms: towards some guidelines for aggregating personality norms across countries. International Journal of Testing,8, (4), 315-333. Foxcroft, C. D. (1997). Psychological testing in South Africa: perspectives regarding ethical and fair practices. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 13, (3), 229-235. Foxcroft, C. D. (2011). Ethical issues related to psychological testing in Africa: what I have learned (so far). Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, Unit 2. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/orpc/vol2/iss2/7 Foxcroft, C. D. (2004). Planning a psychological test in the multicultural South African context. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 30, (4), 8-15. Foxcroft, C. D., Paterson, H., Le Roux, N., & Herbst, D. (2004). Psychological assessment in South Africa: a needs analysis. Final Report, HSRC. International Test Commission (ITC). (2001). International guidelines for test use. International Journal of Testing, 1, (2), 93-114. (Also obtainable from www.intestcom.org) Lilienfield, S. O., Garb, H. N., & Wood, J. M. (2011). Unresolved questions concerning the effectiveness of psychological assessment as a therapeutic intervention: comment on Poston and Hanson (2010). Psychological Assessment, 23, (4), 1047-1055. Paterson, H., & Uys, K. (2005). Critical issues in psychological test use in the South African workplace. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology, 31, (3), 12-22. Photo Credit: Vince Alongi via Compfight cc

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