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10th Oct 2012

Biometric testing in exam industry works to stamp out fraud

Schools and assessment companies take exam fraud seriously and do all they can to prevent students, instructors, and administrators from suffering its consequences. Recent security enhancements to validate the identity of test takers have moved beyond photo IDs to include enhanced biometric measures such as voice recognition and fingerprint scans. Regarding the problem of fraud in international testing, Shawn L. Abbott, assistant vice president of admissions at New York University, recently told Language Magazine, “I think our most pressing concern is with regard to testing fraud. Any enhancements to testing security would be most welcome by colleges and universities.” The issue of fraud in international English and college entrance examinations cannot be ignored, so students preparing for them need to be aware of the biometric testing which may accompany exams. Students may feel that these tests are an invasion of privacy and, in some cultures, they may even seem offensive, so student counsellors would be well advised to do all they can to reduce any tension they may cause. Agents can start by explaining the negative consequences of testing fraud, such as the problems and costs associated with situations where students are out of their depth linguistically on a programme in a foreign country. It is just as important to explain how the procedures actually work so students are not surprised by them. And a few real-world examples can also help them to relax, such as explaining that even the famous Walt Disney World in Florida uses fingerprint imaging to enable park access, so biometric measures are not as scary as they may sound. Below is an overview of the various processes which have been put in place recently to stamp out fraud in the global exam industry.

English language tests

Like most other exam providers, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), requires all students to present a photo ID upon arrival at test centres. TOEFL proctors take a photo of every student as he or she sits for the exam. If a student takes the test more than once and shows remarkable improvement, the pictures from each sitting are compared to rule out fraud. Going a step further, ETS has introduced a biometric voice identification to maintain fair and reliable testing. The newly announced security measure provides an additional proven technique to add to the programme’s comprehensive security system in authenticating test takers globally. Similar to the highly advanced speaker identification platforms used by government and law enforcement agencies, the software uses statistical pattern matching techniques, advanced voice classification methods, and inputs from multiple systems to compare speech samples from test takers and create voice prints for detailed analysis. The new technology will be used as part of test security investigations in 2012 and, beginning in 2013, will gradually be used on a larger scale. “The inclusion of biometric voice identification technology is yet another tool in the TOEFL test security portfolio to ensure test integrity worldwide,” David Hunt, vice president and chief operating officer of ETS’s Global Division explained to Language Magazine.

“Including a state-of-the art speaker identification component to the TOEFL’s security system further strengthens our ability to detect attempts to gain an unfair advantage, a common concern in academia today. ETS is committed to identifying and implementing those protocols deemed most effective by leaders in the security industry in safeguarding against fraudulent behavior.”

Furthermore, Eileen Tyson, Executive Director Global Client Relations, ETS told The PIE News, "It’s no secret that every test provider today faces cheating. Universities find it in terms of fraudulent transcripts, recommendations, essays and other fraudulent activities, and testing companies are not immune. "The TOEFL test has been available for almost 50 years, but during that time the way that students attempt to cheat has changed. So it’s imperative that our security methods keep up to date in this new age of technology." The voice identification software allows ETS to "determine whether there is the same voice among several test takers, and also helps ensure the same test taker is not participating over a number of tests." Meanwhile, Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic) test centres around the world are equipped with advanced palm vein recognition technology. The device captures and recognises the unique patterns in a candidate’s palm veins using non-intrusive, near-infrared scanning technology. New candidates are enrolled in the biometric system during their first test centre admission. They are then automatically verified when taking and returning from breaks. They are verified again when taking a test at a future date in any biometrically equipped location worldwide. Palm vein recognition is secure, privacy-friendly, fast, highly accurate, and virtually impossible to forge. Signatures, photos and palm vein biometrics are time-stamped and packaged together with the test results and test driver keystroke logs to provide a verifiable digital audit trail for each candidate through the entire testing process. All proctor actions, such as starting/stopping exams, are also logged. Digital images (photos and signatures) are also included in the result feeds. Finally, the University of Cambridge’s IELTS also has security systems in place to safeguard against identity fraud among candidates. It requires photo proof of identity when registering and on scheduled test dates, employs fingerprint scans at some test centres, and handwriting samples may also be assessed.

College entrance exams

Looking at university entrance exams, in March of this year, US college admissions officers welcomed new rules aimed at deterring cheating. While the measures don't go as far as the biometrics used in English language tests, they signal a step in the right direction, and additional rumours suggest that tougher methods might be implemented in the future. The new regulations require students taking the SAT and ACT, the two most widely used college entrance exams in the United States, to provide a photo of themselves when they register. Test proctors will be asked to check those photos against identification cards students present when they check in for the exams - and against the students themselves. The change is designed to deter schemes like that uncovered last year in Long Island, New York, where prosecutors allege dozens of teens paid others up to US $3,600 to take the high-stakes exams for them. As a further security measure, the SAT and ACT will make students' registration photos and test results available to their high schools, so administrators who spot a suspiciously high score can double-check the test taker's identity. Whatever identity verification procedures are used, it is important to remind students that both the actual test and the biometric test are for their own benefit, and present students with many options for them to prepare for and improve English language and/or college entrance exam scores. Sources: Language Magazine, Reuters

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