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U Arizona Addresses Placement Exam Cheating with ProctorU

The University of Arizona is applying an online proctoring service to prevent students from cheating on math placement exams that have been moved online as well. Until recently the university issued written exams to students during orientation over the summer when they came to campus, according to Robert Indik, an associate professor in the Department of Mathematics and associate head for instruction. In 2009 U Arizona moved to the use of ALEKS for incoming students. Assessment and LEarning in Knowledge Spaces is a Web-based assessment system that uses adaptive questioning to determine what a student understands about a given subject.

During the previous year the school had given the same online exams to students enrolled in the entry-level classes to try to calibrate ALEKS for use in the placement activities to come later. "The results were good, and we were able to set thresholds for entry that seemed reasonable in light of the data that we had," Indik said. "The test scores seemed to be a good predictor of success." He added that the calibration tests were administered online without proctoring and that the results counted "in a small way" towards student grades.

Based on those results and the fact that cheating on a placement test would work against a student's success in the introductory math classes, the school "optimistically assumed that cheating would not be a large issue."

But reality turned out different. During the summer of 2009, when ALEKS algebra and calculus exams were given to students without proctoring, higher scores prevailed, particularly with the college algebra test. The university policy was that students could retake the test (which is different each time it's taken). "We were somewhat surprised at the distribution of high scores in the tests, and became concerned that students were cheating on the placement tests," Indik said. "In particular, we noticed some students increasing their scores substantially on a retest taken within a few days of their first test."

That fall, the school did some anonymous polling of students, who reported that, indeed, they had cheated on the placement exam in large numbers, especially in the lowest level classes. Also, Indik noted, instructors reported that students weren't as well prepared as they had been in previous years.

Once the fall term was done, the school analyzed student outcomes, which were "particularly poor" for those who had retested in ALEKS and come out with better scores the second time around.

That's when the university decided to require that all retakes of the placement exam be proctored. Students could obtain this through the campus testing center if on campus. For those taking the test from a distance, the school signed on with ProctorU. ProctorU is a service that provides Web-based proctoring through the use Webcam monitoring.

The department had a demonstration, Indik said, and "ProctorU seemed like a good solution for us." The school ran a pilot with a few students, which uncovered some software setup issues with the online test. But, he added, "The proctors have been very helpful and adaptable in dealing with them."

Indik said the university would be analyzing results for students entering school this year. "We will pay particular attention to those who retested whether in-house or online." Based on those results, he said, the school will either continue its current policy or consider requiring that all placement exams, not just the retakes, be proctored. Also, the math department is considering the service as a broader option for students in some of its online and hybrid courses.

Now other departments at the university are considering the use of ProctorU as well, including both the English department and some foreign language departments. "These decisions currently are being made at a departmental level rather than university wide," Indik said. "Our associate provost, Gail Burd, has been following this deployment and is encouraging other departments to look at the possibilities."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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