December 04, 2020

Wyden Calls For Virtual Exam Software Companies to Improve Equity, Accessibility & Privacy For Students

Letter follows reports that students of color and students with disabilities have reported major issues in using the software of leading online testing platforms

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden is pressing three of the largest virtual testing companies used by schools and testing administrators amid the COVID-19 pandemic to address alarming equity, accessibility, and privacy issues faced by students using the platforms.

Recent reports indicate students, particularly students of color and those with disabilities, have had severe issues using the software, been locked out of tests, or wrongly accused of cheating. For example, students of color and students wearing religious clothing like headscarves reported the software failed to recognize their facial features and they were temporarily barred from access.

“Students have run head on into the shortcomings of these technologies—shortcomings that fall heavily on vulnerable communities and perpetuate discriminatory biases,” Wyden and five other senators wrote in a Dec. 3 letter to virtual testing company ExamSoft. Similar letters were sent to virtual testing companies Proctorio and ProctorU.

“It is critical that bias, including racial and gender disparities, be addressed expeditiously to ensure that our students of color are not facing additional barriers in their fields,” the senators wrote.

The senators raised major concerns about the companies’ accommodations for students with disabilities, for example those with facial tic disorders or muscle reflexes, who may be flagged by the software as suspicious or cheating, and virtual proctors unprepared to accommodate students with disabilities.

The senators also expressed alarm over the safety and privacy of students who are being recorded and observed by virtual proctors, are required to install intrusive software on their personal computers, and provide extensive personal information about their homes and health to the companies, writing:

In addition to Wyden, other senators signing the letter led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) are Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tina Smith (D-MN), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

A copy of the full letter to ExamSoft is here.