A Test Security Breathalyzer?

The other day, my daughter’s high school sent a notice home, letting parents know they would be using a new breathalyzer tool on each student before they entered the homecoming dance. The purpose of this tool was to detect whether or not a student had consumed alcohol prior to being admitted to the dance. Not only will this tool be able to detect alcohol consumption, but it will also be used to test open drink containers for alcohol content. This breathalyzer is clearly a deterrent for high school students; a warning saying, “Do not drink alcohol. If you do, we will catch you.”

Hmmm, I thought.  I wonder what it would look like if there was a breathalyzer for people who intended to cheat on tests. Would a potential cheater have really bad breath? Would their tongue change color? Could you take a galvanic skin response with this tool as well? For example, the sweatier someone’s palms, the higher indication of cheating. And, would you be able to detect a high confidence level as to whether the person intends to cheat?

While it may not be realistic to test someone’s breath for test taking maleficence, there are prevention and detection mechanisms we can use to deter would-be-cheaters if they knew the likelihood of getting caught was high. For example, your testing program might put a strong candidate agreement in place to formally state the consequences of non-independent test taking and use secure test design strategies to extend the life of your tests. Your testing program might use data forensic analysis to detect aberrant test taking patters of test takers and monitor the web and social media sites for the discussion and sale of your test content.

Whichever combination of these tactics you use to secure your testing program, it will be important to communicate these actions to test takers. Much in the same way my daughter’s high school communicated to parents and students about the breathalyzer.

Here are messages for you to consider to help deter test taker wrong doing:

  • We are watching – letting test takers know that there are mechanisms in place to make sure they are taking tests honorably.
  • We are analyzing – using data analytic tools to detect aberrant test taking.
  • We are taking action – invalidating score results or removing participants from a testing program when there is a high confidence level of test taker misconduct.

While a test security breathalyzer may not be available to us in the near future, there are still things we can do to deter bad behavior and communicate that it won’t be tolerated.

Alison Foster

Test Security Specialist, Caveon Test Security

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