By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – Two weeks ago, UC Davis Chancellor May announced that remote learning will be extended until January 28 as the campus deals with the surge of cases from Omicron. As such, the extension will now take students into the first round of midterms in remote format, which will lead professors to consider using proctored exam services.
Last Thursday, ASUCD Senate unanimously passed a resolution urging the Academic Senate and all UC Davis faculty members to end the use of proctored exam services during the extended remote learning periods of Winter Quarter 2022.
They further called on “administrators to end all contracts with proctored exam companies, following the precedent of several nationally recognized universities, and requests that faculty be mandated to review alternative modes of examination through resources readily available at the UC Davis Keep Teaching website.”
In their resolution they note that “UC Davis administration has expressed previously the harms of proctored exams and encourages faculty to use alternative practices.”
The administration has stated that “alternatives to traditionally-proctored midterm and final exams are more likely to accurately measure student mastery of concepts, provide valuable feedback to students at a distance, and discourage academic dishonesty.”
In May 2020, Academic Senate leaders and the Vice Provost wrote that they “[d]iscourage the use of holding proctored exams at a single, set time.”
Among the concerns expressed by the Academic Senate and Vice Provost, “Many of our students do not have access to reliable internet, functional computer cameras and microphones, or dependable access to a quiet, private space. Moreover, many students currently live in other time zones, including locations of California, and the United States.”
Most of these proctoring services use facial recognition software or human proctors to confirm an individual’s identity, and the students worry that “the utilization of facial recognition has been found to be discriminatory and is disadvantageous towards BIPOC groups.”
They explained “if the software cannot successfully confirm the identity of the test taker they will be unable to access and exam and shall automatically fail the exam.”
Thus, “facial recognition software detections are proven to be unreliable for identifying Black, East and South Asian, Central Americans, as well as transgender and non-binary indivduals.” Furthermore, “the False Match Rate (FMR) varies between demographic groups with low FMR observed in Eastern European populations and higher in East Asian populations for the majority of services studied.”
In addition, “low image quality causes generally more false negative results in people born in Africa and the Caribbean,” and “numerous reports and complaints have been filed claiming that the facial recognition software had flagged them because the system could not recognize their darker skin.”
On occasion the software may also ask to shine more light on the test taker’s face, the students pointed out, and “students who do not hold appropriate documentation of their identify, such as undocumented students, may also lead to access to the examination being revoked.”
Thus, “this also follows suit as undocumented students are at higher risks of being prosecuted by immigration authorities as immigration authorities may report undocumented students if they believe that students’ documentation is not sufficient enough.”
One example cited is the case of Shamia Dallali, a Muslim undergrad student. She was “forced to abandon her examination and receive an automatic fail for refusing to remove her hijab, which the service believed she was hiding cheating resources under.”
The use of these proctoring services also puts people from a lower socio-economic background at a significant disadvantage, as the proctored exams require test takers to be in a private room and do not allow any other individuals in the testing space during the examination period.
“(S)tudents who might share a room or do not have access to a private room may be flagged by the software if they see another individual or if there is an excessive amount of noise, they write. “Proctored exams require video surveillance at all times, putting test takers that cannot afford quality wifi at risk of being flagged by the proctor or experiencing troubles during the exam that may negatively impact their results.”
A letter written in response to proctored examinations by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Association (OCUFA), noted that “the need for high-speed internet and newer computer technology increases student stress and anxiety, and leaves students with the inability to afford the best connection in the dark.”
ASUCD commends “professors, lecturers, and TAs who have adopted alternative assessment methods as suggested by the University.”
ASUCD urges “faculty intending to utilize online proctored exams to adopt alternative practices to assess students including but not limited to open book exams, research papers, and end of term projects due to the discriminatory, ableist, and intrusive nature of proctored exams and their detrimental impacts on several communities.”