Laird: Remote Proctoring of Exams Is an Invasive Tool Without Clear Security Protections. States & Districts Should Avoid Rushing In
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The education sector is well aware of the negative consequences that can arise when assessments are not conducted securely. We’ve seen instances like the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, where numerous teachers and principals were indicted and convicted of racketeering due to inadequate testing security. More recently, there has been media coverage of wealthy individuals buying better test scores for their children in college readiness exams.
With the ongoing effects of the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education has introduced a waiver process for statewide assessments and accountability. This allows for the remote administration of exams, where feasible. However, there is a lack of guidance or established practices for maintaining test security in this remote setting.
In the absence of guidance, many school districts and states are turning to remote proctoring software as a solution. Companies like Pearson and McGraw-Hill, which support the administration of statewide assessments, have already partnered with remote proctoring software providers.
As someone with experience as a test security auditor in Washington, D.C., I understand the challenges and complexities of maintaining trust in assessment results. Remote proctoring software attempts to replace years of established practices, experienced proctors, and testing experts. Unfortunately, this approach is detrimental to students as it compromises their privacy and can have negative effects on their well-being.
Remote proctoring tools differ from the methods used for quiz or exam administration during remote learning in K-12 schools. Teachers have been able to observe students through video conferencing software like Zoom, similar to how they would monitor them in a physical classroom.
In contrast, remote proctoring software relies on technology and strangers to monitor students’ activities. There are two main types of remote proctoring software:
1. AI-based: Some companies offer software programs that utilize artificial intelligence capabilities, such as facial recognition and motion detection, to identify cheating or test security violations. They even track students’ eye movements.
2. People-based: Other companies aim to replace in-person proctors with remote individuals who observe students taking tests in real time. These remote proctors might request that students show the room they are testing in to ensure there are no materials that could aid them. The key difference is that many students are not taking the test in a traditional classroom, forcing them to share their home environment with a stranger. This invasion of privacy raises concerns.
Remote proctoring tools gained notoriety in higher education during the pandemic, and many universities abandoned their use due to their limitations. Some software failed to recognize test-takers’ faces accurately, and students with disabilities were wrongly flagged for suspicious movements. Now, these tools are making their way into K-12 communities to fulfill the demand for state testing. Aside from the inherent creepiness factor, there are several concerns:
1. There is no independent evidence to verify the effectiveness of remote proctoring software. In fact, there is evidence to suggest that it discriminates against students who don’t fit the norm, such as those with disabilities and children of color. Additionally, malfunctions in the software can disrupt the testing process and increase students’ stress levels, leading to poorer performance.
2. Remote proctoring tools collect sensitive information about students’ home environments, and some even require access to a student’s computer or student ID. This raises privacy concerns, especially for students experiencing homelessness or those who do not wish to disclose certain personal information. It is essential to understand how this data will be stored, who will have access to it, and what measures will be taken to safeguard it from breaches.
3. While remote proctoring tools may fulfill the minimum legal requirements, they do not foster trust or promote responsible use of student data. Consequently, their use undermines the confidence that schools have built with regards to safeguarding student information. In our research, we found that both parents (72%) and teachers (89%) trust schools to handle sensitive student information appropriately.
As we look ahead to future testing in the coming years, it is crucial to consider these risks and make informed decisions regarding the use of remote proctoring tools.
Numerous states are currently deliberating on these matters as they create exemptions that will determine how remote testing will be conducted. It is crucial to act promptly in order to prevent yet another adverse outcome brought about unintentionally by the pandemic. We must avoid compromising students’ privacy in exchange for administering assessments, a decision that would have long-lasting repercussions for years to come.
Elizabeth Laird serves as the director of equity in civic technology at the Center for Democracy & Technology.