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The Impact of Test Fraud

Posted by Steve Addicott

updated over a week ago

After so many years working to protect important testing programs from all kinds of security threats, nothing should surprise me anymore. But every once in a while, I'm presented with a series of interactions and discoveries that are at the very least troubling, and I'm left shaking my head. These instances raise serious questions in my mind regarding the industry's ability to realize fair and valid test results.

Deep down, I’m an optimist, and I generally believe in the goodness and fairness of people. And I know from the work we conduct that the percentage of cheaters on tests truly is small (though growing). Despite that, the impact of the malfeasance is still all too large. 

Test Fraud in Education

Recently, I gathered details to scope a special investigative data forensic analysis for a state department of education. Turns out the state seeks to gather evidence regarding allegations against the principal of an elementary school. A “whistle-blower” teacher in the school provided details that the principal forced teachers to systematically cheat by walking through test booklets with kids before filling in answer sheets. If the allegations are corroborated, it’s staggering to consider the impact one bad apple could have on so many students, parents, and teachers. 

A bit later, during a web-based presentation to over 100 school district leaders in a different state, one participant innocently asked, “How could two students in opposite ends of the test center collude together and cheat?” During the ensuing discussion, a colleague passed along a URL for a website that overtly markets a technology product to help students cheat. The system, an “invisible spy earpiece” incorporates Bluetooth technology, hidden earpieces, signal buttons in shoes, and a cell phone to allow the very covert use of a cell phone during a test to communicate with others. The purveyors make it absolutely clear that students can use it to thwart the security of any important test administration. 

The Financial Impact of Test Fraud

Soon after, I participated in a weekly conference call regarding the ATP Security Council’s published survey report. A fellow volunteer had just compiled survey results provided by 22 test publishers concerning the financial impact of test fraud upon their programs. While we all know that cheats cost testing programs money, it is not always clear how expensive this impact truly is. Based upon the information provided by respondents, these programs are contending with losses that exceed a whopping $60,000,000. That’s the low end. The high-end calculation is, obviously, even greater, and even more alarming. For all the details, look in the ATP Security Survey Report.

A Glimmer of Hope

Just when I think all the news is bad, a glimmer of hope. I spoke to a test program manager whose organization recently won a major court battle with a “Rogue Review Course.” The operators of the course had been systematically pirating live test items and selling them as legitimate test prep materials. According to my contact, the case took over a year to prosecute, but in the end, the good guys were on top, recouping their test development costs and legal fees. The operators of the course have even taken the steps necessary to become a legitimate test preparation partner. As my contact stated, it makes sense to “keep their friends close, and their enemies closer.”

Clearly, this is an important win for our industry. Consider though the time, conviction, and resources (both human and financial) required to wage such an effort. With the stakes so high for so many programs, it’s evident that extraordinary efforts like this one will be required to protect our programs. 


Steve Addicott

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About Caveon

For more than 18 years, Caveon Test Security has driven the discussion and practice of exam security in the testing industry. Today, as the recognized leader in the field, we have expanded our offerings to encompass innovative solutions and technologies that provide comprehensive protection: Solutions designed to detect, deter, and even prevent test fraud.

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