The Crucial Role of Proctors in High-stakes Exams

Last year, dozens of students from the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point were caught cheating on tests. The Naval Academy investigative report identified “inadequate proctoring” as the biggest issue.

This short article, the second in our Test Security Insights series, addresses incidents like these by answering two key questions. When is proctoring needed? What makes proctors so valuable?

When is proctoring needed?

Arguably, it’s needed when test takers’ integrity requires extra support, as at the military academies.

It’s certainly needed when the credibility of your credential depends on your ability to protect exam content from those who want to undermine or profit from it.

Kryterion Senior Psychometrician Zach Irwin insists that candidate supervision by a trained proctor with no incentive tied to a candidate’s test results is the minimal standard for high-stakes test administration security.

What makes proctors so valuable?

Zach is emphatic, “Proctoring is essential to protect the validity of any assessment that enables those who pass it to deliver services impacting the health, safety or well-being of themselves or others.”

Surveillance programs that rely solely on video and audio monitoring of a test location are not sufficient. Retain the recordings for review after exam completion. However, a live proctor is essential to adequately protect the content of your examinations.

You could rely on post-exam review of video and audio recordings, but the cost to have trained staff review recordings for exposure of exam content is likely to exceed the cost of live proctoring.

Recordings can provide valuable evidence that an exam has been compromised, after the fact. For preemptive protection, Zach says, you need a proctor.

Zach is happy to point out the many ways trained proctors deliver true test security.

Proctors can verify candidates and their IDs. This helps prevent impersonators from taking exams on behalf of candidates.

Proctors help ensure that candidates only have access to items approved by the test sponsor. This deters outside assistance, access to prohibited materials, and copying of live test content.

Trained proctors can identify disguised electronic recording devices, spy cams, other gear or notes. At in-person testing sites, proctors periodically find and remove restricted materials stashed in bathrooms and other areas that candidates access during breaks.

High test environment standards make it easier for proctors to spot possible violations of testing rules. Foot tapping, hand signals, coughing and frequent breaks are common tactics used to mask improper contact with others or harvest exam content.

A controlled testing environment also helps ensure that unusual test results aren’t justified as by-products of odd test site characteristics.

Zach’s professional opinion of unproctored tests is clear. “An unproctored test should always be considered an exposed test.” He notes that a growing body of research suggests some candidates see unproctored exams as an invitation to ignore security agreements and/or honor codes.

Did you learn something? If so, look for the next article in our Test Security Insights series. It will address the exam security benefits of data forensics.

The first article in this Test Security Insights series identified essential policies and procedures that protect high-stakes exam content from exposure by credential program associates and test developers. Find it here.

Have a burning question about the psychometric or security status of your test development project or credentialing initiative? Don’t wait! Reach out to Kryterion’s Psychometrics Team here.

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