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Ditch Testing (Part 4): Test Security Measures in China

17 July 2011 11,431 4 Comments

“The answer here is very simple, you just have a culture of integrity and you have better security measures in place,” said Secretary Arne Duncan in response to the Atlanta cheating scandal. Other testing proponents offered similar suggestions. “A culture of integrity” is not easy because of the corruptive power of test-driven accountability as I have discussed in previous posts and “better security measures” will only incur more costs to tax payers without stop cheating.

In response to increased cheating reports, many states have stepped up their test security measures. For example, Texas Education Agency (TEA) introduced a 14-point Test Security Plan in 2007.

The plan includes a very broad range of measures to ensure the integrity of the state tests. According to the revised recommendations for implementation of the Plan released by TEA in 2010, tightened test security measures include analyzing scrambled blocks of test questions to detect answer copying, assigning independent test monitors, requiring districts to implement seating charts during tests, using statistical methods to identify irregularities, requiring districts to retain test related materials for 5 years, providing security training, requiring students to sign an oath, and increasing sanctions for violation. This comprehensive plan covers test development, administration, post-test analysis, and penalties using sophisticated statistical methods, human intervention, psychological and moral forces, and training. It seems to have done all the right things suggested by testing security experts and a pretty good test security plan that could be endorsed by Secretary Duncan.

How well will it work? Will it stop cheating in Texas?

There is no data yet to determine its effectiveness, but there is sufficient evidence that shows even more elaborate and stringent test security measures have not stopped cheating. That evidence comes from China, the land of high-stakes testing and a place that has battled test cheating for hundreds of years.

Test Security Measures in China

The following excerpt from a 2010 story by China’s state news agency Xinhua gives a glimpse of the kind of security measures in place for China’s national exam:

BEIJING, June 7 (Xinhua) — Police and education authorities have stepped up security at exam venues across China to ensure safety and curb cheating, as more than 9.57 million Chinese high school students Monday began sitting the three-day national college entrance exam.

At most venues across China, metal detectors are used to prevent candidates from taking any electronic device into the exam, including watches. Clocks are installed on the walls of the classrooms to inform test-takers of the time.

Surveillance cameras are installed in nearly 110,000 exam venues in 25 provinces so that central and provincial education authorities can simultaneously oversee different venues from a distance, according to a statement from the Ministry of Education.

In northeast China’s Jilin Province, where a cheating scandal ignited national outcry last year, more than 3,000 police have been dispatched to the exam venues for 160,000 candidates, said Vice Governor Chen Xiaoguang.

More than 1,200 disciplinary inspectors are patrolling the venues, which are monitored by surveillance cameras, he added.

Troops are mobilized to ensure security in transporting the test papers to 6,800 venues in northwest China’s vast Xinjiang, said deputy government head Jin Nuo.

Surveillance system

Surveillance System Monitoring Multiple Test Sites

Test materials are delivered by specially equipped vehicles (the same used by banks to transport cash) escorted by armed police and police cars and monitored by GPS to each test site only 60 minutes before the test. Proctors pick up the test materials only 30 minutes before the test begins and must open the sealed envelops in front of the test takers on site.

The penalties for any violation can be severe, ranging from expulsion to imprisonment. A National Testing Law is in the works in China. A draft of the law provides up to seven years imprisonment for testing cheaters or those who assist with cheating.

But all these measures have not stopped test cheating in China. Every year there are reports of cheaters caught and punished. The scale of cheating seems to have become larger. Cheating has become an increasingly organized industry that is pushing technological innovation in China.

Cheating, anti-cheating, and anti-anti-cheating: A booming high-tech and high-profit industry in China

There are more layers of test security measures not mentioned in the Xinhua story. On testing days, there are electronic surveillance vehicles patrolling outside the testing site to intercept electronic signals; electronic devices are used to interfere electronic transmission; and devices to block cell phone reception. The reason for all these measures is the increased use of sophisticated wireless devices for cheating. Many of these devices rival equipment used by James Bond and his colleagues. Since 2001, electronic devices such as earpieces, watches, pens, and pencil erasers have been modified as receivers. Cheaters use these devices to receive answers transmitted from powerful equipment hidden in places near the test sites. The answers are provided by individuals who make a huge profit in this operation (prices differ for different tests but RMB2,000 is often mentioned per subject per test). These individuals hire content experts to come up with the answers to test items, which may have been transmitted by test proctors who use mini-cameras hidden in glasses or clothes they wear. Various government agencies, including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Industry and Information, Ministry of Public Safety (Police), and Ministry of Finance, have been working together to develop anti-cheating technologies and measures. But they are always behind. There is always newer anti-anti-cheating technology being developed. Ironically, the race between cheating and anti-cheating may have helped China’s technology advancement.

I sure hope that America does not embark on this journey of developing test security measures. The China story can serve to illustrate that no matter what security measures are in place and no matter how harsh the punishment, when stakes are high, they are inventives for people to engage in all sorts of risky activities. As the current administration works to increase the stakes of tests in the U.S., it should reconsider its consequences because test security measures won’t stop cheating.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 5

Just in case you are curious, here are some of the high-tech cheating devices being sold openly on many websites in China. Some of the wireless receivers are only the size of grain of rice that can be inserted in the ear (too small for you to see, so no pictures).

Wireless Watch Receiver

Eye glass wireless receiver

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