Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ethical and Multicultural Considerations in Assessment

                                Assessment Errors Made by the Teacher

In the case study presented for evaluation (Whiston, 2008), the first error made by the teacher was her refusal to assess the student (Maria) in a language other than English. The second error she made was basing Maria's lack of readiness for kindergarten on her inability to interact with other children. The teacher's evaluation of Maria's behavior was based on a norm established by children similar to those in the class. This comparison is inappropriate because Maria neither shares a common language with her classmates, nor has she been acculturated into American society like the other children. Finally, if Maria is whimpering throughout the day, she has needs that are not being met. The teacher's lack of attention to the student may be based on her belief that she is not ready for kindergarten. In effect, the teacher has developed bias and a prejudicial attitude toward Maria based on her observation.

The teacher should have enlisted the help of another teacher or someone who spoke Spanish (assuming that is Maria's first language) to determine the extent of her readiness and to acquaint her with some of the other children. In her general assessment of Maria, the teacher made the assumption that Maria has the same opportunities as the other students, although without sharing a common language, Maria is at a disadvantage because of her language and her culture and should not be compared to the other children. The teacher is, in effect, marginalizing and pathologizing Maria by making inaccurate assumptions in her assessment.

                        Ethical and Multicultural Guidelines to Reconcile Errors
The American Counseling Association (ACA) (2005) advises counselors to use assessment instruments as one aspect of evaluating clients, but must not fail to consider the client's unique contexts. The teacher failed to consider Maria's unique context as a member of a population diverse from the rest of her students. Furthermore, the teacher did not promote Maria's well being by accommodating her, and in this failure, marginalized her. The application of appropriate assessments relies on the assessors ability to understand the individual being tested (Budman, Lipson, & Meleis, 1992; Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.). If the teacher had considered Maria's cultural context, she may not have perceived Maria's behavior as a lack of readiness, and may have helped Maria to become comfortable with the other children prior to making the assessment.

The ACA (2005) Section E.1.a. stated the main purpose of assessments is to provide valid and reliable measurements. The teacher made an informal assessment of Maria that was most likely invalid and unreliable because she did not consider Maria's inability to understand the language of the assessment. The ACA's (2005) Section E.2.a. of the ethical codes discusses the level of competence necessary for utilizing any form of assessment. Whiston (2008) discussed the importance of refraining from evaluating individuals from diverse populations when such assessment is outside the counselor's range of training and experience. In the teacher's informal assessment of Maria, she lacked sensitivity to Maria's cultural context. This was evidenced by her refusal to assess Maria in a language other than English. If the teacher had evaluated Maria in her first language, the results may have been an accurate representation of her readiness for school. However, if the assessment was based on questions or concepts not of consequence in Maria's culture, the results may have been skewed (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991). For example, an American kindergartener may recognize President Obama, however, a Costa Rican child of the same age may be less likely to recognize the American president.

Section E.8 of the ACA (2005) ethical codes states counselors must use caution when using an assessment instrument that has not been validated on the client's population. Sedlacek (1994) believed although an assessment is valid and reliable in one population, it is not necessarily appropriate for all populations. Maria may have experiences exclusive to her culture and unfamiliar ways of expressing her knowledge . If this is the case, utilizing the same assessment format used to assess the other children is inappropriate and an invalid and unreliable measure of the constructs it may typically measure (Sedlacek, 1994). Stewart (2002) advises counselors to guard against believing in the universality of psychological constructs. Furthermore, when interpreting the results of an assessment, the results must be perceived within the individual's cultural context (Stewart, 2002). In the above case study, the teacher based Maria's readiness on the behavior of the other children who spoke a different language and have been thoroughly acculturated in American society. Unless the assessment has been tested as an accurate representation of readiness for children like Maria, it is invalid and unreliable (Whiston, 2008).


Underestimating the value of assessments in multicultural contexts may prevent counselors from providing clients the most effective care. Assessments must be utilized appropriately, however, lest the results bear little accuracy when applied to diverse individuals or populations. In Maria's case, evaluating her readiness based on the behavior of other Americanized children was inappropriate. Considering the cultural context of the individual or the population being assessed enhances the results of any assessment, and increases its reliability and validity.


American Counseling Association. (2005). ACA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from

Association for Assessment in Counseling. (2003). Standards for multicultural assessment. Retrieved from


Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development. (1996). AMCD multicultural counseling competencies. Retrieved from

Budman, C. L., Lipson, J. G., & Meleis, A. I. (1992). The cultural consultant in mental health care: The case of an Arab adolescent. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 62(3), 359- 370. doi: 10.1037/h0079347

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (n.d.). Introduction to Assessment. Baltimore, MD: Executive Producer.

Sedlacek, W. E. (1994). Issues in advancing diversity through assessment. Journal of Counseling and Development, 72, 549-553.

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (1991). Advances in experimental social psychology. San Diego: Academic Press.

Stewart, J. B. (2002). Using the culture grid in culture-centered assessment. Guidance & Counseling, 18(1), 10-17.

Whiston, S. C. (2009). Principles and applications of assessment in counseling (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

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