Offering Psychologicalassessment Services Via The Internet

As noted earlier, the expansion of psychological assessment services through the Internet brings to the field special problems that have not been sufficiently dealt with by psychologists. In this section I address several important issues that need to be taken into consideration before making psychological tests available on the Internet.

Test Security

The question of test security has several facets.

• One must assure that the test items are secure and not made available to the public. Most psychologists are aware that test items are considered protected items and should not be made public to prevent the test from being compromised. Making test items available to the general public would undermine the value of the test for making important decisions. The security of materials placed on the Internet is questionable. There have been numerous situations in which hackers have gotten into highly secure files of banks, the State Department, and so forth. It is important for test security to be assured before items are made available through the Internet.

• Some psychological tests are considered to require higher levels of expertise and training to interpret and are not made available to psychologists without clear qualifications to use them. Many psychological tests—particularly those involved in clinical assessment—require careful evaluation of user qualifications. Wide availability of tests on the Internet could result in access to the test for nonqualified test users.

• Most psychological tests are copyrighted and cannot be copied. Making test items available through the Internet increases the likelihood that copyright infringement will occur.

Of course, there are ways of controlling access to test materials in a manner similar to the way they are controlled in traditional clinical practice—that is, the tests would only be available to practitioners who would administer them in controlled office settings. The item responses could then be sent to the test scoring-interpreting service through the Internet for processing. The results of the testing could then be returned to the practitioner electronically in a coded manner that would not be accessible to nonauthorized persons.

Assurance That the Norms for the Test Are Appropriate for Internet Application

Most psychological tests are normed in a standard manner— that is, by having the normative population taking the test in a standard, carefully monitored test situation. Relatively few traditional psychological tests are administered through the Internet. (One exception to this was the Dutch-language version of the MMPI-2; see Sloore, Derksen, de Mey, & Hellenbosch, 1996.) Consequently, making tests available to clients through the Internet would represent a test administration environment very different from the one for which the test was developed.

Assurance That the Individual Taking the Test Has the Cooperative Response Set Present in the Normative Sample

Response sets for Internet administration versus standard administration have not been widely studied. It would be important to ensure that Internet administration would not produce results different from those of standard administration. As noted earlier, computer-administered versus booklet-administered tests have been widely studied. However, if Internet administration involves procedures that are different from those of typical computer administration, these conditions should also be evaluated.

The Internet Version of the Test Needs to Have Reliability and Validity Demonstrated

It is important to ensure that the scores for the test being administered through the Internet are equivalent to those on which the test was originally developed and that the correlates for the test scores apply equally well for the procedure when the test administration procedures are altered.

Psychological test distributors need to develop procedures to assure that the problems noted here do not occur. As previously noted, it is possible that although the tests are processed through the Internet, they could still be administered and controlled through individual clinicians—that is, it is possible that the problems described here could be resolved by limiting access to the test in much the same way that credit card numbers are currently protected. Practitioners who wish to process their test results through the Internet could administer the test to the client in their office and then enter the client's responses into the computer from their own facility keyboard or scanner before dialing up the Internet server. In this manner, the clinician (who has been deemed a qualified test user and is eligible to purchase the test) can assume the responsibility for test security as well as determine which psychological tests meet the essential criteria for the test application involved.

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