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ILTA Code of Ethics
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Translations of the ILTA Code of Ethics into languages other than English are available here.

(Adopted at the annual meeting of ILTA held in Vancouver, March 2000)
(Minor corrections approved by the ILTA Executive Committee, January 2018)

This, the first Code of Ethics prepared by the International Language Testing Association
(ILTA), is a set of principles which draws upon moral philosophy and serves to guide good
professional conduct. It is neither a statute nor a regulation and it does not provide guidelines
for practice, but it is intended to offer a benchmark of satisfactory ethical behavior by all
language testers. It is associated with a separate Guidelines for Practice (available on the ILTA website). The Code of Ethics is based on a blend of the principles of beneficence, non-maleficence, justice, a
respect for autonomy and for civil society.

This Code of Ethics identifies 9 fundamental principles, each elaborated on by a series of
annotations which generally clarify the nature of the principles; they prescribe what ILTA
members ought to do or not do, or more generally how they ought to comport themselves or what
they, or the profession, ought to aspire to; and they identify the difficulties and exceptions
inherent in the application of the principles. The Annotations further elaborate the Code’s
sanctions, making clear that failure to uphold the Code may have serious penalties, such as
withdrawal of ILTA membership on the advice of the ILTA Ethics Committee.
Although this Code derives from other similar ethical codes (stretching back into history), it does
endeavour to reflect the ever changing balance of societal and cultural values across the world,
and for that reason should be interpreted by language testers in conjunction with the associated
Guidelines for Practice.

All professional codes should inform professional conscience and judgement. This ILTA Code of
Ethics does not release language testers from the obligations and responsibilities laid on them by
other Codes to which they have subscribed or from their duties under the legal codes, both
national and international, to which they may be subject.

Language testers are independent moral agents and sometimes they may have a personal moral
stance which conflicts with participation in certain procedures. They are morally entitled to
refuse to participate in procedures which would violate personal moral belief. Language testers
accepting employment positions where they foresee they may be called on to be involved in
situations at variance with their beliefs have a responsibility to acquaint their employer or
prospective employer with this fact. Employers and colleagues have a responsibility to ensure
that such language testers are not discriminated against in their workplace.

The Code of Ethics is instantiated by the Guidelines for Practice (available on the ILTA website).
While the Code of Ethics focuses on the morals and ideals of the profession, the Guidelines for Practice identifiy the minimum requirements for practice in the profession and focus on the
clarification of professional misconduct and unprofessional conduct.

Both the Code of Ethics and the Guidelines for Practice need to be responsive to the needs and changes
within the profession and, in time, these Codes will require revision in response to changes in
language testing and in society. The Code of Ethics will be reviewed within five years, or earlier
if necessary.

Principle 1
Language testers shall have respect for the humanity and dignity of each of their test takers. They
shall provide them with the best possible professional consideration and shall respect all persons’
needs, values and cultures in the provision of their language testing service.


  • Language testers shall not discriminate against nor exploit their test takers on grounds of age,
    gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language background, creed, political affiliations
    or religion, nor knowingly impose their own values (for example social, spiritual, political
    and ideological), to the extent that they are aware of them.
  • Language testers shall never exploit their clients nor try to influence them in ways that are
    not related to the aims of the service they are providing or the investigation they are
  • Sexual relations between language testers and their test takers are always unethical.
  • Teaching and researching language testing involving the use of test takers (including
    students) requires their consent; it also requires respect for their dignity and privacy.
    Those involved should be informed that their refusal to participate will not affect the quality
    of the language tester’s service (in teaching, in research, in development, in administration).
    The use of all forms of media (paper, electronic, video, audio) involving test takers
    requires informed consent before being used for secondary purposes.
  • Language testers shall endeavour to communicate the information they produce to all
    relevant stakeholders in as meaningful a way as possible.
  • Where possible, test takers should be consulted on all matters concerning their interests.

Principle 2
Language testers shall hold all information obtained in their professional capacity about their test
takers in confidence and they shall use professional judgement in sharing such information.


  • In the face of the widespread use of photocopied materials and facsimile, computerized test
    records and data banks, the increased demand for accountability from various sources and the
    personal nature of the information obtained from test takers, language testers are obliged to
    respect test takers’ right to confidentiality and to safeguard all information associated with
    the tester-test taker relationship.
  • Confidentiality cannot be absolute, especially where the records concern students who may
    be competing for admissions and appointments. A careful balance must be maintained
    between preserving confidentiality as a fundamental aspect of the language tester’s
    professional duty and the wider responsibility the tester has to society.
  • Similarly, in appropriate cases, the language tester’s professional colleagues also have a right
    to access data of test takers other than their own in order to improve the service the
    profession offers. In such cases, those given access to data should agree to maintain
  • Test taker data collected from sources other than the test taker directly (for example from
    teachers of students under test) are subject to the same principles of confidentiality.
  • There may be statutory requirements on disclosure, for example where the language tester is
    called as an expert witness in a law court or tribunal. In such circumstances, the language
    tester is released from his/her professional duty to confidentiality.

Principle 3
Language testers should adhere to all relevant ethical principles embodied in national and
international guidelines when undertaking any trial, experiment, treatment or other research


  • Language testing progress depends on research, which necessarily involves the participation
    of human subjects. This research shall conform to generally accepted principles of academic
    inquiry, be based on a thorough knowledge of the professional literature; and be planned and
    executed according to the highest standards.
  • All research must be justified; that is proposed studies shall be reasonably expected to
    provide answers to questions posed.
  • The human rights of the research subject shall always take precedence over the interests of
    science or society.
  • Where there are likely discomforts or risks to the research subject, the benefits of that
    research should be taken into account but must not be used in themselves to justify such
    discomforts or risks. If unforeseeable harmful effects occur, the research should always be
    stopped or modified.
  • An independent Ethics Committee should evaluate all research proposals in order to ensure
    that studies conform to the highest scientific and ethical standards.
  • Relevant information about the aims, methods, risks and discomforts of the research shall be
    given to the subject in advance. The information shall be conveyed in such a way that it is
    fully understood. Consent shall be free, without pressure, coercion or duress.
  • The subject shall be free to refuse to participate in or to withdraw from, the research at any
    time prior to publication of research results. Such refusal shall not jeopardise the subject’s
  • Special care shall be taken with regard to obtaining prior consent in the case of subjects who
    are in dependent relationships (for example, students, the elderly, proficiency challenged
  • In the case of a minor, consent shall be obtained from a parent or guardian but also from the
    child if he is of sufficient maturity and understanding.
  • Confidential information obtained in research shall not be used for purposes other than those specified in the approved research protocol.
  • Publication of research results shall be truthful and accurate.
  • Publication of research reports shall not permit identification of the subjects who have been involved.

Principle 4

Language testers shall not allow the misuse of their professional knowledge or skills, in so far as
they are able.


  • Language testers shall not knowingly use their professional knowledge or skills to advance
    purposes inimical to their test takers' interests. When the progress of the tester's intervention
    is not directly to the benefit of the test takers( for example when they are asked to act as trial
    subjects for a proficiency test designed for some other situation), its nature shall be made
    absolutely clear.
  • Non-conformity with a society's prevailing moral, religious etc values, or status as an
    unwelcome migrant, shall not be the determining factor in assessing language ability.
  • Whatever the legal circumstances, language testers shall not participate, either directly or
    indirectly in the practice of torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment
    (see Declaration of Tokyo 1975).

Principle 5
Language testers shall continue to develop their professional knowledge, sharing this knowledge
with colleagues and other language professionals.


  • Continued learning and advancing one’s knowledge are fundamental to the professional role;
    failure to do so constitutes a disservice to test takers.
  • Language testers shall make use of the various methods of continuing education that are
    available to them. These may involve participation in continuing language testing
    programmes and professional conferences, and the regular reading of relevant professional
  • Language testers shall take the opportunity to interact with colleagues and other relevant
    language professionals as an important means of developing their professional knowledge.
  • Language testers shall share new knowledge with colleagues by publication in recognized
    professional journals or at meetings.
  • Language testers shall be expected to contribute to the education and professional
    development of language testers in training and to the drawing up of guidelines for the core
    requirements of that training.
  • Language testers shall be prepared to contribute to the education of students in the wider
    language professions.

Principle 6

Language testers shall share the responsibility of upholding the integrity of the language testing


  • Language testers shall promote and enhance the integrity of their profession by fostering a
    sense of trust and mutual responsibility among colleagues. In the event of differences of
    opinion, viewpoints should be expressed with candour and respect rather than by mutual
  • Language testers develop and exercise norms on behalf of society. As such theirs is a
    privileged position which brings with it an obligation to maintain appropriate personal and
    moral standards in their professional practice, and in those aspects of their personal life
    which may reflect upon the integrity of that practice.
  • Language testers who become aware of unprofessional conduct by a colleague shall take
    appropriate action; this may include a report to the relevant authorities.
  • Failure to uphold this Code of Ethics will be regarded with the utmost seriousness and could
    lead to severe penalties including withdrawal of ILTA membership.

Principle 7
Language testers in their societal roles shall strive to improve the quality of language testing,
assessment and teaching services, promote the just allocation of those services and contribute to
the education of society regarding language learning and language proficiency.


  • Language testers have a particular duty to promote the improvement of language testing
    provision/services in that many of their test takers are disenfranchised and lack power on
    account of their non-native speaker status.
  • Language testers shall be prepared by virtue of their knowledge and experience to advise
    those responsible for the provision of language testing services.
  • Language testers shall be prepared to act as advocates and join with others in ensuring that
    language testing test takers have available to them the best possible language testing service.
  • Language testers shall be prepared to work with advisory, statutory, voluntary and
    commercial bodies that have a role in the provision of language testing services.
  • Language testers shall take appropriate action if services, by reason of fiscal restriction or
    otherwise, fall below minimal standards. Exceptionally, language testers may have to
    dissociate themselves from such services provided that this is not harmful to their test takers.
  • Language testers shall be prepared to interpret and disseminate relevant scientific information
    and established professional opinions to society. In so doing, language testers shall clarify
    their status as either spokespersons for a recognised professional body or not. If the views
    expressed are contrary to those generally held, they shall so indicate.
  • It is reasonable for language testers to make scientifically substantiated contributions to
    public debate on sensitive socio-political issues, such as race, disadvantage and child rearing.
  • Language testers shall differentiate between their role as educators based on professional
    knowledge and their role as citizens.
  • In fulfilling their responsibilities under this principle, language testers shall take care to avoid
    self-promotion and the denigration of colleagues.
  • Language testers shall make clear that they do not claim (and are not seen to claim) that they
    alone possess all the relevant knowledge.

Principle 8
Language testers shall be mindful of their obligations to the society within which they work,
while recognising that those obligations may on occasion conflict with their responsibilities to
their test takers and to other stakeholders.


  • When test results are obtained on behalf of institutions (government departments,
    professional bodies, universities, schools, companies) language testers have an obligation to
    report those results accurately, however unwelcome they may be to the test takers and other
    stakeholders (families, prospective employers etc).
  • As members of the society in which they work, language testers should recognise their
    obligation to the testing requirements of that society, even when they may not themselves
    agree with them. Where their disagreement is of sufficient strength to qualify as a
    conscientious objection, they should have the right to withdraw their professional services.

Principle 9
Language testers shall regularly consider the potential effects, both short and long term on all
stakeholders of their projects, reserving the right to withhold their professional services on the
grounds of conscience.


  • As professionals, language testers have the responsibility to evaluate the ethical
    consequences of the projects submitted to them. While they cannot consider all possible
    eventualities, they should engage in a thorough evaluation of the likely consequences and,
    where those consequences are in their view professionally unacceptable, withdraw their
    services. In such cases, they should as a matter of course consult with fellow language testers
    to determine how far their view is shared, always reserving the right, where their colleagues
    take a different view, to make an individual stand on the grounds of conscience.

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