Test Security: Protecting the Integrity of Tests


December 1999, Vol. 54, No. 12, 1078-1078
© 1999 by the American Psychological Association
For personal use only - not for distribution

This editorial is devoted to a discussion of test security issues, both in the context of publishing test materials in scholarly writings, such as articles appearing in this journal, and in the context of litigation. Such public disclosure of test materials should be evaluated in light of copyright law and the ethical obligations of psychologists and other professionals to protect the value of secured tests whose psychometric integrity depends upon the test taker not having prior access to test materials.

It is important for authors who wish to reproduce tests or parts of tests in other works to exercise particular care. It is safest for authors to assume that all tests are protected by copyright, even if the work does not contain a copyright notice. Copyright vests in a work from the moment it is created, and neither a formal copyright notice nor registration at the U.S. Copyright Office in Washington, DC, is required. Accordingly, any author who wishes to reproduce a test or a portion of a test (whether in a journal article, audiotape, videotape, internet site, or other medium) should contact the publisher to determine whether the material is protected by copyright and to request permission to reproduce the material if so. For the protection of the author, it is best to obtain such permission in writing and to deliver a copy of the permission to the editor of the publication in which the author's work will appear. Of course, appropriate citations should be made to the author and publisher of the test. Although the use of copyrighted material without permission from the copyright holder may be regarded by law as "fair use" under certain circumstances, it may not be safe to rely on fair use when dealing with test materials because secure tests enjoy heightened protection under the fair use analysis.

Furthermore, the standards of most professions that use test materials require that secure tests not be disclosed in a forum where they are accessible to individuals who may be taking the test at some point in the future. For example, Standard 5.7 of the recently promulgated Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing (American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education, 1999) states that "Test users have the responsibility of protecting the security of the test materials at all times" (see also Standard 11.7). Furthermore, Standard 5.6 states that "Reasonable efforts should be made to assure the integrity of test scores by eliminating opportunities for test takers to attain scores by fraudulent means." These standards are based on the fact that many of these secure tests consist of one highly researched form that the professional community will use for a decade or, in many cases, even longer. The psychometric integrity of these instruments depends upon the test taker having no prior access to the test questions and answers.

The mandate to refrain from disclosing secure test materials in a public forum has caused great difficulty for psychologists in the context of litigation. Often, testing psychologists are asked to disclose test materials to lawyers and other individuals who are not ethically or legally obligated to keep these materials confidential. Sometimes these materials will be admitted into evidence as part of the public record. These actions slowly erode the validity and reliability of the instruments as the test items become more widely available to anyone trying to obtain access to them. Accordingly, the best protection for the test is for the psychologist whose test records are subpoenaed, or otherwise requested in a legal proceeding, to ask the court to allow delivery of secure material only to psychologists or other professionals who are bound by the same duty to protect them. If delivery to nonqualified individuals, such as legal counsel, is mandated, a further way to seek to protect the materials is to request that a protective order be issued prohibiting parties from making copies of the materials, requiring that the materials be returned to the psychologists at the close of litigation, and ordering that the record be sealed if test questions or answers are admitted as part of the public record.

Protecting secure test materials not only preserves the ongoing worth of the psychologists' tools but also helps ensure that these materials are used in a manner that best serves the community at large.


American Educational Research Association, American Psychological Association, & National Council on Measurement in Education, (1999). Standards for educational and psychological testing. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.