Though the common-core assessments won’t go online until the 2014-15 school year, some states and school districts already administer online testing. With so many students taking online exams and many more expected to do so in the years to come, school districts and states are looking for ways to keep online assessments secure. Digital Directions spoke to a number of educational technology experts to identify common problems associated with online testing and what schools can do to fix them.
Bandwidth: Too many students using online content on a given day could overload the school’s allotted bandwidth, slowing down or even crashing testing platforms on assessment days.
Solution: Michael Jamerson, the director of technology for the 11,400-student Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation in Indiana, uses Lightspeed Systems’ Web filter to limit or block access to music- or video-streaming sites like Pandora that are popular among teenagers and use up a lot of bandwidth. Limiting access to certain sites allows schools to preserve bandwidth strictly for education-related purposes on assessment days, and ensures that testing applications run quickly.
Old Software: Out-of-date software could lead to system crashes during assessments.
Solution: Alice Owen, the executive director of technology services for the 34,000-student Irving Independent School District in Texas, says her district, a 1-to-1 computing district where all high school students have school-issued laptops, sends software updates to all students to make sure the computers’ internal processes flow smoothly on test days and don’t crash during exams. Daily software updates are provided by a Microsoft Service Center in what Owen calls a “mostly automated process,” which downloads to students’ digital devices. Experts say this commitment to regular software updates for school computers is just as important in districts that do not have 1-to-1 computing programs.
Security Risks: Access points that are not password-protected could be hacked, leaving private test information exposed.
Solution: Pete Just, the chief technology officer for the 16,300-student Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indiana, recommends purchasing a premium-quality Internet-access package, which typically comes with additional security features. He says cheaper Internet packages have access points that are often easier to hack, and with school discounts, higher-quality Internet packages don’t cost too much more. “Not everyone looks at hackability of device when looking at total cost of ownership,” Just says.
Software Limits: Software limitations could lead to more cheating by students on exams.
Solution: Susan Creighton, a coordinator in the Office of Assessment for the South Carolina Department of Education, says her state uses a testing platform from Data Recognition Corp. with built-in security features that crack down on cheating. The software includes a “desktop lockdown” that blocks other applications from opening during test time, and a time-out feature that shuts down the testing application after 20 minutes of inactivity. The program also includes a built-in pause feature that turns the screen blank if a student needs to step away from his or her desk briefly, preventing nearby students from getting answers from that screen.
Inaccurate Data: The large number of students taking online exams could lead to assessments linked to the wrong students.
Solution: Elizabeth Jones, the director of the office of assessment for the South Carolina Department of Education, says her state’s online testing system requires students to verify personal information to ensure that the right students are taking the tests. Before each test, students are given unique identification numbers by the test administrator and have to verify their profiles with name, birthday, and demographic information when they log in. The system also prevents two students from using the same log-in information at the same time.
A version of this article appeared in the October 17, 2012 edition of Digital Directions as Securing the Assessments