By: John Fremer, President, Caveon Consulting Services

The third European ATP Conference concluded the last week in September in the spectacularly lovely city of Prague in the Czech Republic and it was a rousing success. Attendance was 225 besting the planners’ target of 200 attendees. The keynote talks were of exceptionally high quality and there were a large number of productive and well-attended sessions. The weather was also as good as one can imagine and the city welcomed us in every way.

I pay special attention to how the prevention of cheating and test piracy is addressed at any conference that I participate in and I was struck by the substantial increase in attention from even a year ago to the topic both in formal sessions and in conversations with other attendees. Part of the reason seems to be a high level of awareness of developments in the US, especially in our state assessment programs. There is also a strong country specific set of reasons related to security breaks or cheating episodes in critical programs that have received extensive media coverage. As is the case in the US, once a cheating story breaks in the UK, the Netherlands, or other European countries, it tends to get a great deal of coverage that can last months or more.

There was a good deal of attention to “authentication,” improved ways of using biometrics, proctor training, and closer monitoring of the testing process to make it harder for test takers to invalidate our best efforts to ensure fair testing. The degree to which testing transcends borders within Europe and in the larger world was also emphasized. Steve Addicott of Caveon and Aimee Rhodes of the Chartered Financial Analysts spoke to a packed house on the international aspects of testing and security. Cheaters and pirates can be based in one country in the morning and another in the afternoon if you are resourceful enough to shut down or limit the place where their day started. The situation has been compared to the arcade game “Whack-a-mole,” where as soon as you hit one varmint, another pops up out of a different hole. I like that metaphor as it reflects my view of these unscrupulous enemies of fairness in testing.

Several of the keynotes really impressed me. Two were given by very successful entrepreneurs. Madan Padaki from Bangalore, India, CEO of MeritTrac in an address entitled “The 500 Million Dream: Building a Nation” described the progress made in India raising 400 million people out of poverty. It is an astonishing story as is the development and growth of MeritTrac to be a major provider of testing services in a ten year period. Madan did not say his path had been easy. Rather he indicated that he might not have made the attempt, if he had realized the challenges that he would face.

Another extraordinary session was given by Lucian Tarnowski; the driving force behind “Brave New Talent,” a social media based way of nurturing and locating talent. Lucian is all of 27 years old and talks about digital immigrants, i.e., most of the people now working in assessment. We are “newly arrived” to a world with so many ways to be connected. It was not that way when most of us were in school or starting our careers. Digital natives, by contrast, grew up in this world and it is very familiar to them. Lucian describes his own Dad who has stayed with his typewriter as his way of composing and communicating as a “digital refugee.” I emerged from that session convinced that I am way overdue on my promise to myself to use social networks wherever it will help me keep in touch with the colleagues, clients, and fellow professionals with whom I share interests and goals.

Another session, a plenary in the form of a debate, saw Cor Sluijter of CITO do a very fine job defending our efforts to produce high quality tests that serve valuable purposes against Donald Clark of Learn Direct. Clark pointed out a number of flaws in testing and argued that assessment is not “fit for purpose” in the 21st century world. Clark’s criticisms were thoughtful ones, but Sluijter held his own and all of us who attended welcomed the fact that both did their best with the help of Eugene Burke of SHL who moderated with élan to show us different sides of a meaty and much talked about issue.

I have not captured all of the ATP Europe Conference, but I hope I have conveyed some of the substance and spirit. Next year it will be in Berlin in mid-September. The date for next year’s conference has not yet been set. You will surely see a note with the date on this blog as well as in Caveon’s Newsletter “Cheating in the News.” If I get my own social media act together, you might get a tweet from me about it. I like to think this particular digital immigrant can still learn new tricks.


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