skip to main content skip to footer

Evidence and Ethics in the Evaluation of Tests

Messick, Samuel J.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Ethics, Evaluation, Test Interpretation, Test Use, Test Validity, Validity Studies


Establishing the validity of educational and psychological tests entails judgments of both evidence and consequence for each of the two distinct but interrelated functions of tests—interpretation and use. The evidential basis of test interpretation is construct validity. The evidential basis of test use is also construct validity, but elaborated to determine the relevance of the construct to the applied purpose and the utility of the measure in the applied setting. The consequential basis of test interpretation entails an appraisal of the value implications of alternative interpretations, while the consequential basis of test use requires appraisal of the potential social consequences of the proposed use and of the actual consequences when used. The delineation of a consequential basis for test validity as well as an evidential basis means that standards for evaluating tests must take explicit account of social context and social purpose, and test validity comes to be based on ethical as well as evidential grounds. Implications of this unified view of test validity as an overall judgment of the adequacy and appropriateness of inferences and actions based on test scores are examined for the measurement of four constructs prevalent in current educational practice—namely, intelligence, competence, mastery, and scholastic ability. Implications are also adumbrated for the responsibilities of test users and for the ethics of test use. (47pp.)

Read More