Cheating Threat on Computerized Tests Not Covered in State Laws, Group Says

By Benjamin Herold — October 02, 2014 3 min read
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State laws have not kept pace with the growing use of online and computer-based testing in schools, leaving unaddressed the potential for new types of cheating and security breaches, according to a report by prominent test-maker ACT.

“There’s an urgent need for states to create and adopt clear and comprehensive regulations that reflect the changing role of technology in assessments,” said Wayne Camara, ACT senior vice president of research, in a statement. “Administering assessments digitally offers the potential to minimize many test security risks, but other types of risks may often emerge.”

The report, titled “The End of Erasures: Updating Test Security Laws and Policies for Computerized Testing,” was released this week in conjunction with a new conference on test security, which the Iowa City, Iowa-based non-profit testing group is hosting in its hometown.

Adult cheating on K-12 standardized tests has been big news in recent years, with massive scandals still unfolding in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and elsewhere.

Most of those problems were uncovered in large part by analysis of pencil-and-paper answer sheets that ended up showing staggering levels of wrong-to-right erasures (in other words, adults were correcting student answer sheets by erasing wrong answers and filling in the correct answers.)

But such “bubble-sheets” are fading away with the rise of online and computer-based tests, a trend that will only intensify this school year, when dozens of states will begin administering new technology-based assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Such online and computerized test administration, the ACT report says, “introduces its own test security risks,” including “educators logging into tests to view questions or change student responses; computer hacking; keystroke logging; and printing, emailing, or storing test information in a computer outside the test delivery system.”

As a result, the report says, “There will need to be efforts to prevent unauthorized access to secure exam materials, student access to restricted materials (e.g., a calculator when not allowed for testing), or inappropriate use of accommodations.”

And oh by the way, there is also a “greater risk of students accessing the Internet and other programs during testing,” a threat that is exacerbated by bring-your-own-device programs

All that doesn’t even get into the possibility of students using social media to share test items and answers, as happened last year in California.

Based on a 2013 review of state laws, the ACT also concluded that state statutes and regulations haven’t caught up with the new challenges and are still “primarily oriented towards paper-and-pencil assessment.” Delaware and Oregon were the only states found to have regulations that specifically referenced computer-based tests.

ACT’s areas of focus for states looking to improve their laws and regulations include:

  • Security of materials: Student “tickets” with name and login information “must be secure so that someone other than the student does not use the login information to access the test either to gain knowledge of the test items or to complete the test on the student’s behalf.”
  • Student workstations: “Given that it may be easier to see test items and student responses on a computer screen than on a traditional paper booklet and answer sheet, the layout of student workstations increases in importance with computerized testing,” according to the report. Some states currently recommend visual barriers or adequate spacing.
  • Technology: To address the threats of computer hacking, keystroke logging, and using technology to access test information inappropriately, possible steps include prohibiting Internet access during testing, turning off monitoring software, and using secure browsers.
  • Test access: The ACT report suggests that state laws specify who may have access to a student’s login information.
  • Testing window: Because the likelihood that test items are inappropriately shared increased with with longer test-administration periods, the report suggests practices such as administering sessions of a computer-based test at the same time whenever possible.

Photo by iStockPhoto.

See also:

Adaptive Tech., Secure Browsers Aim to Curb Student Cheating
Social Media a ‘Frightening’ New Threat to Test Security?
Trial Underway in Atlanta Schools Cheating Case

for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.