Test Proctoring: An Old Solution to a (Re)Emerging Problem

Today we welcome Peg Wherry, Director of Online Learning at Montana State University, as a guest blogger.  Peg currently leads the WCET Academic Integrity and Student Authentication Subcommittee on Proctoring Practices and Policies and takes this opportunity to share with you their current work.

A headline in the New York Times “Education Life” supplement on January 20 of this year proclaimed, “E-Testing: The Future Is Here.” The article focused on large computer-based testing centers being created on many campuses, citing specifically Penn State, University of Akron, University of Central Florida, and others that are creating high-security centers with dozens of computers running lock-down browser software. Regardless of the size of the testing center, many of them probably are members of the National College Testing Association, which has about 1,700 members representing some 600 colleges and over 40 corporations involved in the testing field.

Many of us involved with distance learning have learned that supervised testing is the strongest protection of academic integrity in online education. The current term for that supervision is “proctor,” but in the nineteenth century, when the practice emerged, “sentinel” and “witness” were also used. A key tenet in the “Report of Committee on Correspondence Study Standards” of the National University Extension Association (1931) was that “Examinations shall be adequately safeguarded.” Thus institutions involved in correspondence study in the first third of the twentieth century, when Rural Free Delivery was the latest advance in communications, are now moving into the online world with well-established practices for using human proctors to safeguard examinations.

Institutions newer to distance learning, on the other hand, may feel they are starting from scratch. To assist them, WCET’s Common Interest Group on Academic Integrity and Student Authentication is developing “Guidelines for Good Practice in Proctoring (Human Proctoring).”  There are also a number of technology-based solutions to the issue of proctoring or exam supervision at a distance. An institution considering various exam safeguards needs to select a method that fits their mission, size, budget, and academic traditions.

One resource for them may be NCTA’s Consortium of College Testing Centers, a listing of colleges that offer professional quality proctoring services to students from other colleges, supporting both online and paper delivered exams.  All participating colleges are required to subscribe to the NCTA National Standards for Testing.  There are currently about 350 Colleges participating in the Consortium.  Access to this list is available to anyone, at no cost, through the NCTA web site:  www.ncta-testing.org.

No solution, whether human proctors or technology, is cheap. The idea of charging students (through paying a proctor or testing center or buying technology-based solutions) may sound a little tacky. It’s easy to imagine a student protesting, “You mean I have to PAY to take a test?!” But what the student would pay for is a system to ensure that the playing field is level and that the credential earned represents honest achievement. It’s the price of fairness—and integrity.

We would like to hear from you about your experiences with proctoring.  We would also like to get your feedback on our draft “Guidelines for Good Practice in Proctoring (Human Proctoring).”  Please provide your comments below.  Thank you.

Peg Wherry

Peg Wherry

Director of Online and Distance Learning

Montana State University

9 Comments

  1. Posted March 1, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink | Reply

    Great point Peg. There in lies the dilema. Seems to be grey, and for some, risky. Great discussion though. With the growth in online courses and distributed student populations, these questions need to be addressed/considered. The demand for student exam services will grow in the online space. Students are demanding online exams, so the research needs to be done.

  2. Posted February 22, 2012 at 10:38 am | Permalink | Reply

    Below are the following results from research related to FERPA (Family Educational and Privacy Rights Act), as it relates to using background and other information to verify student identity. It will require decisions to be made by the institutions, in writing, if they want to proceed with using identity management technology that authenticates students before exams.

    1. FERPA is protecting “personally identifiable information”, or links to that information that allows for the ability to determine who a student is. Basically, if I combine a student’s name or student ID with something like identification/authentication items from a background technology (Acxiom) that can be construed as confidential information. FERPA uses the term “linkable” and what that essentially means is if I combine two pieces of student data to determine who that student is there is potential for confidentiality breach.

    2. FERPA is very closely aligned with The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) definition of identifiable information. This information goes beyond what is commonly known for students such as name and student ID, to areas such as mother’s maiden name, place of birth. From what we understand these identity management systems do is utilize this very information to validate students before proctoring exams. Using the “linkable” term above there is ultimately a connection of data that can identify a student, ultimately raising the concern of confidentiality, as defined by FERPA.

    • Peg Wherry
      Posted February 24, 2012 at 12:35 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Doesn’t FERPA allow for sharing identifiable information for legitimate business purposes? And wouldn’t protecting exam integrity be a legitimate business purpose?

  3. Posted February 16, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Can I assume that if your Live Proctor is online, the “on ground” presence does not come into play?

  4. Posted February 16, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink | Reply

    As for proctors, I think that you need to look at the language in each state. Many are very clear on whether they consider proctoring “presence” or not. Some require that it be an employee, others only require that the student be required to go to a specific location. In the latter scenario, I don’t think it matters whether the proctor is paid or not. So, check the language closely.
    Thanks,
    Russ

  5. Posted February 15, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

    We’ve also looked at the state authorization requirements and they are fuzzy as to what constitutes a presence. We use proctors in every state (and several International), but none of them are paid by the University. We believe that these proctors do not count as a presence. It remains to be seen how each state may define this.
    In the guidelines for Proctor responsibilities, we require our proctors to verify the student’s identity with a photo ID. This is requirement helps justify our academic integrity and student authentication policies.

  6. Posted February 13, 2012 at 11:22 am | Permalink | Reply

    Based on increased visibility to proctoring for online exams, we are at a significant crossroad for maintaining integrity and credibility at many levels. From the institution, to the accredited programs and subsequent funding, to the instructors, and even students, there is a proverbial “elephant in the room”. Online programs, exams, and students require a more effective method of proctoring, and the traditional means is quickly becoming obsolete. Most would argue, as suggested, that there is not a silver bullet. The solution is a combination of people, process, and technology to meet the proctoring demands for an expanding online generation of learners.

  7. Posted February 10, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink | Reply

    The UNC Online Proctoring Network has been designed to enhance the academic integrity of online courses by providing students with an easily accessible pool of qualified proctors and standardizing the proctoring process across the UNC campuses. It serves as a one stop shop for proctoring services by defining proctoring guidelines and incorporating a number of automated features for faculty, students and proctors. For example, UNC system instructors enter their exam or exam details into the system one time and the system automatically distributes exam materials to approved proctors’ accounts upon student scheduling. Also, perhaps best of all, instructors can track students’ scheduling activity via the system.

  8. Posted February 10, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink | Reply

    While doing our due diligence for State authorization I have come across some states that say if you do any form on on the ground presence and they include proctoring, it can be construed as needing to apply for a”presence” in that state.

    Has anyone else seen this?

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