Counselors employed in secondary school settings will usually be involved in the testing program that the school system regularly uses to assess all students periodically. Because the school system is concerned with identifying student needs in order to plan curricular experiences, or monitoring student progress in order to evaluate teaching and learning activities, school testing programs often are heavily loaded with ability and achievement tests. The information provided by these tests is helpful in expanding student self-understanding and often may be a more accurate assessment of student ability and potential than the grades recorded on the student's transcript. The existence of such information, usually obtained every two or three years, will frequently make unnecessary any additional testing of ability or achievement.
Individuals with special learning problems or other non-typical needs require assessment by different types of tests. A broad array of instruments for use with these students already exists. Again, detailed testing information may already be a part of the school record. When adequate test data are not available, the counselor must exercise considerable caution and care in selecting tests to use with clients who have special problems. Often it will be advisable to consult with the special education teacher, the school psychologist, or other personnel who are involved in the educational program for special students.
The personality tests that we have examined are of limited value in diagnosing special problems or personality disorders. Instead, those included have been developed for use with individuals who can best be described as normal. If the counselor begins to develop data suggesting that the client has problems that exceed the usual boundaries of normalcy, a referral to a competent therapist is appropriate.
Interpreting test data
If the counselor has included testing in the career counseling process, this has been done to obtain information that will assist the client in answering questions about self, and thus to develop a more complete and accurate self-understanding. Reporting test results to the client should be accomplished in a way that keeps the attention of both counselor and client focused on that goal. It may be advantageous to review together those questions or uncertainties, identified earlier, that led to the use of tests to obtain supplementary information.
The counselor ordinarily adopts a teaching role as attention is turned to consideration of test results. He or she assumes that client familiarity with the psychometric world is limited and consequently may include misconceptions, perhaps unrealistic expectations or concerns. The immediate, short-term goal probably is to help the client understand enough about tests and the testing process so that his or her comprehension of the results will be accurate and useful. Test results, by themselves, are meaningless to most clients and may induce unnecessary concern or invalid assumptions; on the other hand, the client usually does not need to know everything the counselor has learned about tests in his or her professional career.
Most clients are likely to be unfamiliar with terms such as percentile, stanine, standard score, or norm group. "Percentile" is especially susceptible to misunderstanding, probably because so many spelling and arithmetic lessons in elementary school were graded on the basis of percentage of correct answers. Even general terms such as reliability, scholastic ability, and temperament take on special meaning when used in a psychometric frame of reference. If any technical terms are to be used to explain test results, clients must first understand what those terms mean in the context in which they are being applied. Ordinarily, professional jargon is unnecessary because one important counselor skill is the ability to communicate effectively with a client by using the client's language and terminology.
Additional communication problems may arise if the counselor uses profile charts or graphs to illustrate test results. These also must be reviewed for terminology that can be misleading or misunderstood. Further, unspoken implications can confuse the client, for example, if a bar graph based on a meaningless zero-point is used rather than a bar graph based on the midpoint of the appropriate norm group. Some of the personality instruments use titles for test scales that may be psychologically loaded for some clients-for example, dominance, masculinity, exhibition, and other words. Others use initials or abbreviations that sometimes arouse needless curiosity or concern. Nevertheless, profile charts are generally helpful since they assist the client in visualizing the information that is being transmitted verbally.
As test results are explained, the counselor can help the client internalize and understand their meaning if the data can be related to what is already known about the client. Items that are particularly useful are comments that the client has made about self in earlier sessions or on personal data forms, or observations made by the counselor. The objective is to provide the client with information that relates to the bigger picture and helps the client see that picture more clearly and use that additional insight in resolving the present problem. Client comments, degree of animation, body language, facial expression, and similar signs will reveal the extent to which the client is accepting and comprehending the information. Providing frequent opportunities for the client to react and talk will also help the assimilation process. Asking the client to summarize occasionally allows feedback that demonstrates the extent to which the client can organize and use the data in his or her framework.
Discussing test information may lead to the identification of some data that may appear to require further validation or substantiation. This is more likely to be necessary if the questioned results seem to be crucial to the decision facing the client. Sometimes areas for additional investigation arise because of unexpected test results-a flat profile on an interest inventory, for example, may raise questions as to whether these scores truly reflect the client and, if so, why? This result may suggest exploring areas of personality and self-concept. It may imply that an inappropriate interest inventory was administered, or even that this one was incorrectly marked or scored. It may also suggest to the client something that he or she wants to explore further. Questions then may arise about how the results can be confirmed or validated. Several possibilities may be readily apparent, such as reading appropriate materials, retesting with a different instrument, various exercises or workbook programs, discussion with other individuals such as friends or instructors, tryout explorations, or other activities.
The counselor may move back and forth from counseling role to teaching role and back to counselor role again as test results are considered. This movement is easily accomplished, rarely confusing to the client, and need not be philosophically distressing to the counselor. Although some counselors feel that they can only maintain a counseling role, such rigidity may result in disservice to a client whose need to know information may momentarily require a teacher-learner relationship. The confident and able counselor has sufficient flexibility to make these short-term role changes without damage to the basic counseling relationship and without building an undesirable and unnecessary dependence.