The SAT and rival ACT, the nation’s most important college entrance exams, are taking steps to offer their tests online and at students’ homes later this year in an unprecedented move that will require massive amounts of digital proctoring to prevent cheating, officials announced Wednesday.
Emergency backup plans are being developed by both influential testing organizations if schools remain closed in the fall, preventing the usual in-school testing.
If the coronavirus crisis persists, the College Board, the organization that sponsors the SAT, said it is preparing for an online, at-home offering of the exam that would implement technology that monitors movement and sound of possible cheating activities and also locks down access to other sites on the Internet during testing. Such online SAT exams previously have been used at some school districts and wider versions are already being tested.
“While the idea of at-home SAT testing is new, digital delivery of the test is not,” College Board CEO David Coleman said in a statement
I am very skeptical of this move. Online education has enormous promise, and I think that it will ultimately replace the vast majority of in-person education. Notwithstanding the bad experience of many students who, because of COVID-19, have to endure an improvised online version of their previously in-person classes.
However, testing and credentialing will probably not make that transition anytime soon. The problem is that the more a test matters and is important for a student’s future, the greater the incentive to cheat. And the stakes of the SAT are (or appear to be) quite high. With a great enough incentive, no software or digital monitoring will prove good enough to prevent cheating.
A webcam and a microphone will never provide enough information of the surrounding environment. And if Apple hasn’t found a way to stop people from jailbreaking their devices, and video game creators haven’t figured out a reliable way to prevent people from pirating their games, the idea that anyone is going to come up with a software solution to ensure the integrity of online tests seems laughable.
This is also why I think that anyone wanting to create a degree-equivalent standardized test (as I argue for here and here), will have to stick to in-person test proctoring. At least if they want their test to carry a high signaling value. That also explains to some extent why online degree programs haven’t been more popular, and are viewed with some skepticism by employers.
The future of learning is on the internet, but credentialing will probably remain offline.