Gabe Teninbaum, a professor at Suffolk University Law School, urges ExamSoft to fix a critical flaw in its testing software: the failure to recognize faces. It’s an issue that test-takers can delay or prevent them from starting their exams altogether, and it has been reported to have a disproportionate impact on people with dark skin tones.
ExamSoft software records students as they take remote exams and monitors them for signs of academic dishonesty. Teninbaum’s report Addresses an ExamSoft function called ExamID, which is used to verify that test takers are what they say they are. When a student logs into their exam portal for the first time, they upload a photo of themselves (their “basic image”). You will then be asked to take another selfie before starting any future exams that the software will compare to your original photo.
research has found that facial recognition algorithms consistently make more mistakes in identifying black faces than white ones. And while these studies did not specifically focus on ExamSoft, this does not seem to be an exception. As early as September, several non-white examiners informed this New York Times that the software could not identify them due to “poor lighting” – a problem that Teninbaum, who has light skin, could not replicate.
The @ ExamSoft Software cannot “recognize” me due to “poor lighting” even though I am sitting in a well-lit room. I’m starting to think it has nothing to do with lighting. We’re pretty sure we all predicted that their facial recognition software wouldn’t work for people of color. @ DiplomaPriv4All
– Alivardi Khan (@uhreeb) September 8, 2020
@ ExamSoft I finally figured out how to get to my mock exam 4 hours later … only to find out the system can’t detect me. I’m in a room with all the lights on and the sun was still high. MAKE IT MAKE SENSE. pic.twitter.com/7K3yKT1y4n
– Futureesq1990 (@ futureesq1990) 17th September 2020
At the beginning of autumn Teninbaum set out to find a solution. He believes such mistakes put undue stress on an already stressful period. “These are students who are about to take a high-stakes exam with a lot at stake, and that is very undesirable,” Teninbaum said in an interview with The edge.
“Every time you go for an exam, you just want to focus on the exam,” he added. “You don’t want to feel like you have these additional challenges.”
Teninbaum also believes that optics are important; Schools owe it to marginalized students not to rely on a category of software that is known to be discriminatory. “Students feel that their institution is doing everything in its power to protect their rights, interests and dignity,” he says.
In his reportthat is imminent in The Journal of Robotics, Artificial Intelligence and LawTeninbaum outlines the workaround that he found.
He suggests that schools assign an identical general basic image to each student. Then, he suggests, they should ask ExamSoft to enable “deferred identification,” a feature built into the software that allows students to continue exams even if identification fails. This feature is basically hidden – it isn’t mentioned anywhere on the ExamSoft website (at least not that I could find it). Only ExamSoft can activate it.
Together, these optimizations result in ExamSoft incorrectly identifying each test participant. However, you can still proceed with your exams. ExamSoft then sends the selfies to the school and the instructors can review them all manually. “We know who our students are,” says Teninbaum. “We can ensure that students are what they say they are and avoid exposing students to such challenges.”
He also suggests that ExamSoft make the Deferred Identification feature available to customers. “The reporter urges ExamSoft to build this into a feature that allows institutions to simply toggle it on and off, bypassing ExamID until the technology matures into non-discriminatory technology,” the report said .
Teninbaum hopes these changes can go beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and help students feel more comfortable in distance learning. “It will be a growing problem as people go online for their education,” he says.
Even so, he only fixed part of the problem. Students have experienced a Series of hiccups with ExamSoft’s monitoring software. Over 3,000 People who used the platform to take the California bar exam in October were warned of potential rule violations on their videos – nearly 36 percent of applicants who took the online exam. Users reported audio and other technical issues.
A group of six US Senators – including Richard Blumenthal, Elizabeth Warren, and Corey Booker – wrote an open letter ExamSoft in December pointed out, among other things, possible damage to color school students and students with disabilities.
ExamSoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.