2.2.5. Description of the assessment question and of the method used for assessment

2.2.5 Description of the assessment question and of the method used for assessment

Before starting the assessment of the client, the psychologist formulates one or more assessment questions, which are included in the report. The psychologist is accountable for translating the assessment questions into the method used for the assessment. The methodological competence of the psychologist should be reflected in the choice of method to be used for the assessment. That way, theory and practice are bound up with each other.

The assessment questions serve to provide insights to the client, any referrer, a principal, including an external principal, and the psychologist themselves into the assessment procedure that is followed. That way, the psychologist is accountable for their professional behaviour (see Article 35, “Rendering of account”). The assessment question can be highly standardised (such as in the selection of human resources, when an instrument is used to make a first selection from the initial list of candidates), but it can also be strictly individual, for example in psychodiagnostic research. An assessment question should in any case be seen as a translation of the assignment into the assessment procedure that is followed. It should be possible to tell from the assessment question why and to what end the psychologist uses certain research methods, including psychodiagnostic instruments.

An assessment question contains at least the following:

  • the reason for the assessment,
  • the client’s assessment question(s),
  • the assignment for the psychologist, as agreed – perhaps with a principal, including an external principal,
  • the choice of method and of instruments for answering the assessment question(s) (see 2.2.7, “Principles in the choice of psychodiagnostic instruments”)

The terms “cause”, “question”, “client”, “principal”, “assignment”, and “assessment question” point to different phases in the creation of an agreement to carry out an assessment. The reason could be “poor results at school”, for instance. The assessment questions from the principal or external principal, such as a parent or a teacher, could thus be, “Is this pupil doing well enough, or do they have insufficient cognitive abilities?” The assignment agreed could be “An assessment of intelligence, motivation and interest on the part of the pupil”. The assessment question or questions then indicate, for example, that in addition to a performance and motivation test, an individual intelligence test will be administered to take into account the pupil’s way of working. Furthermore, it can indicate that a questionnaire will also be used to chart how the student handles problems or stressful events, if, for instance, it has appeared during the intake session that the pupil responds rather stoically when things go badly.

An assessment question can contain one or more hypotheses on the basis of which the psychologist starts with the assessment. An assessment designed to test hypotheses indicates which method the psychologist uses to test the hypothesis or hypotheses, and which instruments are chosen for this – see BOX 3. The psychologist formulates criteria on the basis of which the hypothesis or hypotheses are rejected or accepted. These criteria may refer, for instance, to the limit values of test results.

It is advisable to include aspects of the methodological choices in the reporting, insofar as they have direct consequences for the understanding and interpretation of the research results. Examples include describing the theoretical framework the work has been based on, and the consequences of choosing a particular instrument for substantive interpretation. On request, the psychologist can always justify the choices of method and instruments (see 2.2.7, “Principles of choosing psychodiagnostic instruments”).

A psychologist should always clarify, or be able to, what the relationship is between the psychodiagnostic instrument that is used and the phrasing of a given question. They should also clarify, or be able to, what the relationship is between the test results and the findings that they come to on the basis of them. In addition, these results should always apply to the person (the client within the meaning of the Code). Scientifically trained psychologists who use psychodiagnostic instruments should be aware, in testing, of both their advantages and their limitations.

A psychodiagnostic instrument can be seen as a tool through which the person being examined (the client) has the opportunity to express themselves in a standardised way. One condition for this is that a psychodiagnostic instrument is used properly. Improper use of a psychodiagnostic instrument can have harmful consequences for a client and a principal, external or otherwise, because if it is used incorrectly, the results will be wrong.

Psychodiagnostics – and, more specifically, testing – is therefore a professional application of psychology that can have far-reaching consequences for people’s lives. That is why psychologists should receive enough theoretical and practical training to be able to practice psychodiagnostics responsibly. It is not possible within this standard to give an exhaustive listing of all possible qualifications in the field of psychodiagnostics in the Netherlands – but two examples are given of arrangements that seek to promote appropriate testing.

The first concerns a directive drawn up by the European Federation of Psychologists’ Associations (EFPA), namely the EFPA Standards for Test Use (EFPA, 2012), which describe competencies and qualifications for testing more generally. The directive distinguishes among three categories of test users – with an increasing level of knowledge and skill across the categories: the assistant user, the user, and the specialist in tests and testing. For illustrative purposes, BOX 4 contains the description of these levels of competency that appears in the EFPA Standards for Test Use (with a few minor changes in wording). Many test publishers use such a system to determine who is authorised to purchase a particular instrument, and some may also require that such a purchase be followed by training in the use of the instrument.

One example of a quality seal indicating that the professional has basic knowledge and skills in the field of psychodiagnostics is the Basic Certificate in Psychodiagnostics (Dutch initials: BAPD), a mark of quality of the NIP. This certificate guarantees that psychology graduates possess a basic level of theoretical knowledge and skills in psychodiagnostics, including in the selection, administration, and interpretation of psychodiagnostic instruments. To earn the BAPD, a psychologist must meet a number of criteria, including at least 200 hours of work experience in psychodiagnostics, under the supervision of an authorised BAPD supervisor, the writing of three case studies in the BAPD format, and adherence to theoretical requirements regarding psychodiagnostics, psychometrics and decision-making, psychodiagnostic instruments and procedures, practical skills in psychodiagnostic instruments, interviewing, observation and decision-making, and communication skills. For more information, please see Requirements for the Basic Certificate in Psychodiagnostics on the Dutch Open University website.

In addition, of course, specific additional qualifications and registrations obtain in all kinds of fields, for example with regard to assistance for youth in confinement (NVO-NIP, 2016) or forensic diagnostics within the youth sector. This includes the National Framework for Forensic Diagnostics for Youth, with which a number of organisations are affiliated, such as the Dutch Institute for Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology (Dutch initials: NIFP), the Council for Child Protection (RvdK), and the magistracy (Ministry of Security and Justice, 2014).