Pillars of Assessment in Psychology

By Dr. Monique Marie Chouraeshkenazi

Photo Source: Stuart Kime

Jerome M. Sattler is a world-renowned psychologist and author, who is considered a “pioneer” in the field of psychological testing and assessments. Because of his strides in the assessment of children, Sattler published Assessment of Children: Cognitive Applications, which entails the four pillars of assessment that are predicated on information assessment methodologies, interviews, observations, and norm-referenced tests (Sattler, 2001). The first pillar are norm-referenced tests and such assessments compare an individual’s performance to those in a similar fields and/or categories; there must be a solid comparison group for results to be considered reliable and credible. An individual’s score is compared to another, which is in a specific norm for a standardized group (Aiken & Groth-Marnat, 2006). Examples of norm-referenced tests are specialized tests for gifted students (academia and intelligence), emotional and behavioral matters (psychological), and memory skills (functional), to name a few.

The second pillar is the assessment of interviews. Assessments are used to generate information from tests to draw a conclusion. The purpose of such tests is to differentiate reasoning precisely norm (standardized) efforts by collecting and examining, analyzing, and interpreting the information given by individuals of the same group. Types of assessments are indicative of interviews, which fall into three categories; unstructured, semi-structured, and structured. Interviews are critical data collection tools in research and experiments and have been responsible for groundbreaking results. Additionally, interviews are essential because researchers attempt to identify commonalities between specific themes (Arizona State Unviersity, n.d.). These commonalities afford opportunities to provide prolific results, which can assist policymakers in making informed decisions derived from research study efforts.

The third pillar is observations, which is an integral part of the testing process. According to the introductory lesson of understanding psychological testing and assessments, it is important to observe an individual’s demeanor, methodologies, behavior, facial expressions, and so forth, when testing (American Public University System [APUS], 2018). Such mannerisms should be noted to understand a person’s agitation or possible levels of difficulty during testing and to gauge consistency of behaviors during the entire assessment, which can be underlying factors when interpreting results and making recommendations.

The fourth pillar assessment is information assessment procedures, in which samples of tests can be considered to obtain information from a specific group. These type of tests are not considered official testing tools and should be used for preliminary information and review; therefore, critical information such as diagnosis, medical management, treatment, to publish results, and other professional works within the field should be based on official testing tools that are recognized through prominent psychological associations (i.e. the American Psychological Association). The purpose of using informal assessments are to obtain information that can bring value to official testing procedures.

Part A: The Testing Process

            The developed scenario is seeking applicants to participate in an experimental study and examine the psychological effects of terrorism. This will be a forensic study to determine not only perceived psychological concerns, but how those who engage in terrorism should be tried and persecuted for their crimes with the federal judicial system within the United States. Finally, the results from the experiment will be published and distributed to psychological facilities, law enforcement, department of justices, and counterterrorism agencies throughout the world to acknowledge recommendations for policymakers and the evolution of persecution for terroristic acts.

            To complete this study, norm-referenced tests would be required for the following populace:

-       Reformed terrorists

-       Terrorists who have been captured (standardized groups)

This specific population is needed to gather information on emotional and behavioral issues, academic intelligence, potential mental illnesses and/or disorders, socioeconomic status, professions prior to engagement in terrorism, salary, military background, age, and familial/social backgrounds. Like elements needed for norm-reference testing, clinical assessments should be used to gather information specific traits such as socioeconomic status, familial background, mental and behavioral matters, upbringing, and other information required to understand the correlation of psychological effects, the justice system, and policymaking processes in terrorism.

           This experimental study will be a mixed methods approach, structured interview, case study to examine and analyze the information collected by the population selected. Collaborators are required to observe participants during the assessment to record all behaviors that can be an element considered to the results of this experiment. As a guideline for this study, Schuuranum’s research design of compiling articles as a dataset to review the evolution of terrorism attacks (2018). Instead, the focus will be on academic journals published between 2001and 2017 to review information on psychological effects such as trauma, mental disabilities, and other effects that have diagnosed before and after involvement in terrorist attack.

           In addition, the experiment will utilize the Inventory of Personality Organization Reality Test scale, which is used for “reality testing, primitive psychological defense, and identity diffusion, in a nonclinical sample” (Lenzenweger, Clarkin, Kernberg, & Foelsch, 2001, para. 1). This is especially important to utilize, as there needs to be a process implemented to determine reliability, consistency, and validity of assessment protocol before using official testing tools for this study.

Part B: Three Ethical Guidelines

            Studying the psychological effects of terrorism is very complex topic and requires unorthodox protocol because the experiments calls for those who are international and domestic criminals that are responsible for committing heinous crimes against governments and humanity throughout the world. Because of the sensitivity of this topic, there are many ethical considerations, which can negatively impact the success of this study. Even though all ethical considerations are important and will be utilized in this study, the following will be the focus:

-       Competence

-       Human Relations

-       Informed Consent  

Competence is a very important element in this research study; because of the seriousness of terrorism, it needs to be determined if the participants’ capabilities and comprehension levels are recorded prior to and after the experiment to show competency. It is also important that psychologists are competent in the field they specialize in to avoid violations, misdiagnosis, and other problems (possible criminal issues) that can heavily impact the results and/or that prevents the publishing a study. According to the American Psychological Association (2018), competence is an integral characteristic of a psychologist’s performance to determine their abilities. To ensure they are qualified to provide services and competency is clear, psychologists frequently complete training to ensure their competency when necessary.

            Human relations cover various elements that can be detrimental to experimental settings. For this study, unfair discrimination, avoiding harm, and other harassment issues will be centralized factors and require specific protocol to ensure the participants are protected. Unfair discrimination can be projected in this study, considering the sensitive population. Dealing with criminals who have committed heinous crimes against humanity are unacceptable by most citizens in the world.

Discrimination is predicated on the unfair treatment of individuals based on their gender, race, ethnicity, culture, origin, religious preference, and other factors that are considered rightful to an individual, as a human (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d.). In this research study, there can be bias and discrimination against terrorists because of their chosen careers and voluntary role played in the execution of terrorist acts. Therefore, psychologists conducting this experience should annotate meticulous protocol of how he or she will mitigate prejudice from their analysis and results and conduct this experiment in a way that produces the most reliable information possible.

Other harassment issues relate to psychologists and working with participants that are considered a “sensitive” population. Because discrimination may not be the intention with this experiment, psychologists may inadvertently do so and secondary measures need to be ensured to prevent partiality and protecting the integrity of the study. Avoiding harm may be the most important element under human relations issues. It is dependent upon psychologists to take necessary steps to mitigate harming participants and/or putting them in harmful conditions (APA, 2018). In addition to establishing protocols for discrimination, there must be strict guidelines for preventing harmful environments for reform and captured terrorists during the longevity of this experiment.

Informed consent must be established by psychologists who want to interview, assess, counsel, or consult services human subjects (APA, 2018). Because this is a sensitive experiment, involving serious activities, there is an exceptional need to ensure participants are legally capable to give consent to participate in this study. Additionally, the seriousness of this experiment may question participants’ mental capacity to complete assessments of their involvement in terrorism. To protect the integrity of the study and participants, additional protocol should be annotated, which involves a third reputable party (i.e. legal entities) to ensure the competency and comprehension of the participants selected.

Privacy and confidentiality is a mandate psychologists must follow to protect all private and confidential components of the information collected by participants (APA, 2018). Appropriate measures should be taken to determine where all data collected will be stored during and after the research study. Protocol should include where storage equipment will be located and who will have access to the information. There should be alternative measures for information that is lost, stolen, and/or unintentionally erased. Additionally, since information will be recorded via video and manual recording devices, there will be an addendum to support methods on how recorded information should be handled and stored. This should mitigate intrusion efforts and/or access to information unauthorized persons and provide administrative actions. Addendums to intrusion information should include administrative actions for those who purposely access private and confidential information and are authorized.

Understanding the pillars of assessment paves the way for quality and sound research studies. Psychologists, scientists, and other trained professionals involved in research studies can use the pillars of assessments as a guideline for ensuring all elements are included and that all legal and ethical protocols are acknowledged and adhered to. Additionally, utilizing the pillars of assessment brings values to problem-solving and evaluations that attempts to solve the world’s problems in psychology and science. Psychological testing is a controversial tool that underlines the ethical concerns, which may negate the hard work and effort involved to publishing groundbreaking information within the field. The pillars of assessment identify specific issues such as the examiner, bias, tools, challenges, accuracy, and confidentiality—that if acknowledged within the study, can increases its changes, as being a respected, reliable, and valid study.


Aiken, L. R. & Groth-Marnat, G. (2006). Psychological Testing and Assessment. Boston, MA: Pearson Educational Group, Inc.

American Psychological Association. (2018). Ethical principles of psychologists code of conduct. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/ (accessed on 8 July 2018).

American Public University System. (2018). PSYC502: Week 1 Lesson. Retrieved from https://edge.apus.edu/portal/site/387829/tool/6156a533-ceaf-4256-84eb-b640bfd94f56/ShowPage?returnView=&studentItemId=0&backPath=&errorMessage=&clearAttr=&source=&title=&sendingPage=2169519&newTopLevel=false&postedComment=false&addBefore=&itemId=7313703&path=push&addTool=-1&recheck=&id= (accessed on 8 July 2018).

Sattler, J. M. (2001). Assessment of Children: Cognitive Applications (4th Edition). San Diego, CA: Jerome M. Sattler, Inc.

Schuurman, B. (2018). Research on terrorism, 2007-2016: A review of data, methods, and authorship. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09546553.2018.1439023 (accessed on 8 July 2018).

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.). Discrimination by type. Retrieved from https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/ (accessed on 8 July 2018).





Dr. Monique Chouraeshkenazi