Online Testing: The Challenge of Ensuring Fairness and Avoiding Dishonesty

Jeffersonville High School teachers are using a range of approaches to make sure students are keeping it honest when testing

Story by Amber Walker

With the introduction of Chromebooks, Greater Clark County Schools students were able to switch to online lessons and assignments relatively quickly and easily during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, one issue stands out as a sticky subject: online assessments. 

Cheating on tests is not a new problem. Even before COVID-19, students were able to cheat using a range of methods, from writing notes on your palm to sharing pictures to wearing special sunglasses that allow you to spy on your classmates’ papers. However, the large number of students who are attending school online during the pandemic makes it much more difficult for teachers to spot and prevent cheating. 

Since the pandemic started, many schools have adopted tech solutions to prevent cheating. For example, GCCS Chromebooks have built-in monitoring software called Classwize. Using this service, teachers can monitor students’ screen activity and task behavior. Brittany Wright, who teaches Algebra 1 and Geometry at Jeff High, says she has used Classwize to keep students on task whether they are at home or physically in class working on their Chromebooks. “I can close their browser if they are doing something they’re not supposed to,” Wright says. However, the system is not foolproof because students may still have access to other devices such as phones and tablets. Still, Wright says, Classwize is “better than nothing.”

Some teachers approached the issue by making more thought-provoking, opinion-based test questions. English teacher Taylor Troncin says, “This school year, I have had to think outside of the box when it comes to assessments. Instead of doing multiple choice or true/false questions, I have started using more open ended questions, which challenge students to not only answer questions, but to explain their reasoning.” Troncin is also looking at the concept of an assessment more creatively. “I have moved more towards projects that can be completed virtually,” she says. 

While open-ended questions make it more difficult for students to cheat, there is a major drawback: it takes extra time for teachers to grade long-answer questions. 

Another tactic being used is scrambled questions and answers. Some teachers are also limiting the time students have to complete tests. Finally, open-book and open-note tests have become more common — even for traditional, in person classes. 

As for fairness, it might seem like online students have advantages over traditional students because they are not monitored as easily. Also, as science teacher Eric Robinson points out, taking tests at home allows for “opportunities that aren’t available in your more traditional classroom” such as a more comfortable environment. However, Robinson has noticed one thing in particular that works against online students: motivation. Robinson says, “It’s made students not as concerned about test-taking. It doesn’t feel as concrete to them.” In short, when it comes to testing online, Robinson says “there is more opportunity, but there is also less desire.”

The reasons students are inclined to cheat are often ambiguous. Perhaps it is done out of a simple necessity to move onto the next level in life. Perhaps it is done to achieve a perfect score or avoid failure. Sometimes students just don’t feel up to the task. Even if academic dishonesty cannot be prevented entirely, Jeff High teachers are taking steps to minimize cheating and level the playing field for all students.

Story by Amber Walker

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