Na­tional Test­ing Agency: Tech­nol­ogy glitches, hack­ers could be chal­lenges

TEST CHECKS There’s an ur­gent need for safety mea­sures to elim­i­nate any chances of cheat­ing, im­per­son­ation and cor­rup­tion in sin­gle test­ing agency

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - HT Education - - Front Page - Gauri Kohli

Threats from hack­ers, pos­si­bil­ity of ram­pant cheat­ing by can­di­dates and tech glitches over­shadow the gov­ern­ment’s move to set up a sin­gle test­ing agency (Na­tional Test­ing Agency) for Joint En­trance Exam (JEE) for en­gi­neer­ing, Grad­u­ate Ap­ti­tude Test for En­gi­neer­ing (GATE), Na­tional El­i­gi­bil­ity Test (NET), and other ex­ams, say ex­perts.

Some of the tests are likely to be com­puter-based and­con­ducted mul­ti­ple times a year. This will re­quire high-end tech­nol­ogy, de­tailed plan­ning and proper ex­e­cu­tion for safety and qual­ity.

Test­ing au­thor­i­ties have to strengthen the sys­tem against cheat­ing, im­per­son­ation and cor­rup­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Bipin Ba­tra, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Na­tional Board of Ex­am­i­na­tions (NBE), all high-stake ex­am­i­na­tions cur­rently face hack­ing t hreats. Han­dling a ma­jor ex­am­i­na­tion such as the Na­tional El­i­gi­bil­ity cum En­trance Test (NEET) and JEEand­stan­dard­i­s­a­tion of con­tent could be tricky too.

“The pro­posed NTA be­ing a spe­cialised agency will have to in­vest in cre­ation of ro­bust in­fras­truc­ture as well as best prac­tices to over­come th­ese chal­lenges,” he says.

The sys­tem will re­quire con­stant test­ing. Elim­i­nat­ing tech­no­log­i­cal glitches and us­ing bio­met­ric sys­tems will help, say ex­perts. Bio­met­ric cap­tur­ing at ev­ery stage and cross ver­i­fi­ca­tion of bio­met­ric data­base across years can lead to zero im­per­son­ation. Dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy for distri­bu­tion of ques­tion pa­pers can elim­i­nate the re­mote chances of pa­per leak and highly se­cure vir­tual pri­vate net­works can elim­i­nate any chances of cheat­ing and mal­prac­tices,” adds Dr Ba­tra.

Les­sons also have to be learnt from NBE, which is us­ing such tech­nol­ogy for con­duct­ing tests such as NEET Post­grad­u­ate, NEET Su­per Spe­cialty and For­eign Med­i­cal Grad­u­ates Exam.

NBE has smoothly mi­grated all the en­trance and licensing ex­am­i­na­tions from pa­per to com­puter-based test­ing mode. The pop­u­lar per­cep­tion a few years ago was that “med­i­cal grad­u­ates will not be able to use com­put­ers. No such bar­ri­ers ex­ist as dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies are used widely to­day. How­ever, the con­duct of op­er­a­tions re­mains a chal­lenge as many tier 2 and tier 3 cities in the coun­try do not have req­ui­site in­fras­truc­ture in terms of in­ter­net band­width and com­puter labs,” says Dr Ba­tra.

Con­duct­ing en­trance tests is not the core func­tion of in­sti­tutes han­dling this task to­day. Au­thor­i­ties of th­ese in­sti­tutes feel this is an added re­spon­si­bil­ity. Test­ing is a spe­cialised job which needs the right blend of tech­nol­ogy and op­er­a­tions ex­per­tise and should be out­sourced to a spe­cial­ist agency, say ex­perts. It will al­low the in­sti­tu­tions to con­cen­trate on their core job of pol­icy-mak­ing and im­ple­men­ta­tion. Soumi­tra Roy, coun­try manager, Pro­met­ric In­dia, a global test­ing agency that has con­ducted tests such as the Com­mon Ad­mis­sion Test (CAT) for IIMs in the past, says In­dia’s big­gest chal­lenge is to iden­tify the re­quired tech­ni­cal and phys­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture which is con­ducive to test­ing.

On­line test­ing can be used for low-stake ex­ams such as HR ex­ams or tests for hir­ing. Any com­puter-based test has to be con­ducted in a proc­tored en­vi­ron­ment like that of an en­trance test, he says. The gov­ern­ment’s aim is to con­vert all pa­per-pen­cil based tests into com­puter-based tests. While some tests like JEE and CAT are com­puter-based, the bet­ter so­lu­tion is to con­vert them to con­tin­u­ous tests rather than con­duct­ing them on one or two days and in spe­cific test­ing win­dows. “This is a must in a coun­try like ours with a var­ied de­mog­ra­phy, in­fras­truc­ture and low in­ter­net band­width in cer­tain cities. There have been sev­eral in­stances of can­di­dates not be­ing able to give their best per­for­mance due to emer­gen­cies on the test day and they end up los­ing the en­tire year. If the can­di­date is un­able to sched­ule the en­trance test flex­i­bly and has to lose a year, then what kind of tech­no­log­i­cal and so­ci­etal ad­vance­ments are we aim­ing for?” asks Roy.

An­other per­cep­tion is that pa­per-pen­cil based test­ing is out­dated and does not of­fer the ad­van­tages of the com­put­er­based test­ing plat­form. “The op­tion of con­duct­ing pa­per-pen­cil based tests may still be there. How­ever, it needs to be sup­ple­mented with ro­bust tech­nol­ogy such as bio­met­rics, cap­tur­ing CCTV record­ing, elec­tronic data­base ver­i­fi­ca­tion, dig­i­tal im­age and fin­ger­prints cap­tur­ing and archival etc,” says Dr Ba­tra. NTA can be­come the sin­gle source of in­tro­duc­ing in­no­va­tion and guid­ing pol­icy mak­ers on test ad­min­is­tra­tion.

There is a need to find per­fect bal­ance be­tween tech­nol­ogy in test­ing and op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Tech­nol­ogy alone can­not solve all prob­lems in test­ing. Be­sides test de­liv­ery, good con­tent is also nec­es­sary for test­ing agen­cies. Speak­ing about tests such as JEE and GATE, Anil D Sa­hasrabud­dhe, chair­man, All-In­dia Coun­cil for Tech­ni­cal Ed­u­ca­tion, says the num­ber of can­di­dates is likely to go up by two to three times in the next few years. Mul­ti­ple dates for the ex­ams in a year could also be a pos­si­bil­ity to give stu­dents the op­por­tu­nity to im­prove their per­for­mance. Mo­dal­i­ties, cur­ricu­lum etc are yet to be fi­nalised such as whether pa­per 2 of JEE Main for ar­chi­tec­ture can be moved on­line as well. Th­ese points will be de­lib­er­ated in the next few months.

Suc­cess­fully ad­min­is­trat­ing a test like the CAT is based on a num­ber of fac­tors be­sides high­end tech­nol­ogy. Ac­cord­ing to Prof Tatha­gata Bandy­opad­hyay, con­venor, CAT 2015, with in­crease in the size of the pool of can­di­dates, IIMs went for the com­puter-based test from 2009. The de­liv­ery part was out­sourced.

“Test con­struc­tion is still the job of a core group of IIM fac­ulty mem­bers who have been do­ing it for years. It needs tremen­dous ef­fort, high in­tel­lec­tual ca­pa­bil­i­ties and huge ex­pe­ri­ences. The in­tegrity and hon­esty of the peo­ple in­volved is ex­em­plary. Con­struc­tion of tests should be such that it ef­fec­tively dif­fer­en­ti­ates the can­di­dates in terms of abil­i­ties be­ing tested,” he says. Anum­ber of cues for the Na­tional Test­ing Agency (NTA) can be taken from for­eign agen­cies con­duct­ing Scholas­tic Ap­ti­tude Test (SAT), Test of English as a For­eign Lan­guage (TOEFL), Grad­u­ate Record Exam (GRE) and Grad­u­ate Man­age­ment Ad­mis­sion Test (GMAT). Most of the tests are held round the year to give a chance to can­di­dates to resched­ule dates.

An im­por­tant thing, how­ever, is to re­mem­ber that the terms on­line test­ing and com­put­er­based test­ing are in­ter­change­ably used, says Soumi­tra Roy, coun­try manager, Pro­met­ric In­dia, a global test­ing agency.

On­line test­ing means can­di­dates us­ing the in­ter­net in real time. In com­puter-based test­ing, the in­ter­net is used to down­load the ap­point­ment. Then the test is down­loaded and kept on the server to be launched on a spe­cific day. “That is how the high-stake ex­ams such as the GRE, TOEFL, United States Med­i­cal Licensing Ex­am­i­na­tion, Med­i­cal Col­lege Ad­mis­sion Test and other ma­jor global ex­ams are con­ducted,” Roy says.

Th­ese are all com­puter-based tests and are con­ducted sev­eral times a year. How­ever, in our coun­try, says Roy, it is not ideal to go for on­line test­ing as it in­creases the chances of hack­ers sneak­ing into the item bank, ren­der­ing the tech­nol­ogy un­safe.

Global ex­ams are in con­tin­u­ous test­ing mode – with mul­ti­ple ex­ams in a day or through the year. As Roy says, “At the cen­tre of th­ese ex­ams is the test con­tent which de­ter­mines its ef­fec­tive­ness and the ac­cu­rate mea­sure­ment of the knowl­edge. This is be­cause com­put­erised test­ing re­quires a larger num­ber of test items due to the greater num­ber of test ad­min­is­tra­tion dates typ­i­cal of th­ese mod­els. The item bank be­comes a crit­i­cal el­e­ment, then, and must be sup­ple­mented so that a suf­fi­cient num­ber of items, both within spe­cific sub-con­tent ar­eas and over­all, are avail­able.”

Some of the test­ing agen­cies across the world fol­low es­tab­lished global prac­tices such as IMS Global Spec­i­fi­ca­tions. “This en­sures the tests con­ducted have high in­tegrity and mea­sure knowl­edge re­li­ably by curb­ing cheat­ing and by util­is­ing psy­cho­me­t­ric anal­y­sis in de­vel­op­ing high qual­ity test items,” he adds.

Glob­ally, some of the large scale ex­am­i­na­tions have the ex­per­tise of the best net­work se­cu­rity ex­perts, psy­cho­me­t­ric anal­y­sis, pro­fes­sion­ally trained fac­ulty as item writ­ers, ro­bust soft­ware sys­tems and IT prac­tices to cre­ate most se­cure ex­am­i­na­tions which even the most dif­fi­cult of im­posters will find to pen­e­trate.

Dr Bipin Ba­tra, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Na­tional Board of Ex­ams, says, “In­dia be­ing a ma­jor player in terms of ab­so­lute num­bers in higher ed­u­ca­tion, it is time to de­velop our ex­per­tise and cre­ate global bench­marks.”


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