Senator: ‘More transparency is needed’ by exam proctoring tech firms

Three of the leading exam proctoring companies are facing calls to be more transparent, amid continued claims of bias by students forced to take remote exams because of the ongoing pandemic.

Exam proctoring tech lets students take remotely invigilated tests from home. Students are told to install their university’s choice of proctoring software, which allows the exam monitor deep access to the student’s computer, including their webcams and microphones, to monitor their activity to spot potential cheating.

But companies like Proctorio, ExamSoft and ProctorU have faced a barrage of criticism from students who say that their proctoring technology is fraught with problems, including issues of bias — all of which could impact their test results.

Chief among the complaints are that their proctoring software cannot recognize faces with darker skin tones or religious headgear, and discriminates against students with disabilities and those in lower-income areas who may not have the internet speeds to meet the standards of the test-taking tech.

Several U.S. Democratic senators sent Proctorio, ExamSoft and ProctorU letters in December calling on the companies to explain their technology and policies better. In their responses seen by TechCrunch, the companies rejected claims of discrimination and all said that it’s up to the teachers to decide whether a student has cheated, not the companies themselves.

But lawmakers say that the companies are not transparent enough, and worry teachers could be making decisions about a student’s conduct based on little more than what the technology tells them.

“Proctorio, ExamSoft and ProctorU claim they don’t have problems with bias, yet alarming reports from students tell a different story,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) told TechCrunch. “These responses from the companies are only the first step in learning more about how they operate, but much more transparency is needed into the systems that have the power to accuse students of cheating. I will work on every fix necessary to ensure students are protected.”

Students across the U.S. have already called on their schools to stop using proctoring software citing privacy and security risks.

We sent the companies several questions. ProctorU’s chief executive Scott McFarland declined to comment citing the holiday weekend. Proctorio and ExamSoft did not respond.