April 21, 2014

Data Analytics Used to Spot Certification Test Cheaters

George Leopold

There has been much media coverage lately about standardized testing in American schools as well as fundamental changes to college entrance exams. But employers also have issues preventing cheating on professional certification and licensing exams.

A new analytics tool promises to detect cheating on professional certification exams. Separately, the developer said it is also trying to bridge a looming big data skills gap.

The temptation to use shortcuts while taking the rigorous certification exams is great since they can determine who gets hired, retained or promoted. A recent example is the U.S. Air Force scandal in which nuclear weapon controllers are alleged to have cheated on proficiency tests. Several mid-level commanders were relieved of their duties safeguarding the nation’s nuclear arsenal.

SAS Analytics of Cary, N.C., recently rolled out a data analytics tool designed to ensure the validity of test results. SAS said its tool sifts through test data to spot anomalies that can be used to find evidence exposing test cheaters and ensure the integrity of certification and other professional exams.

Castle Worldwide, an SAS client that develops and administers professional certification and licensing exams, said it is using a version of the SAS tool tailored to mid-size businesses to conduct big data analysis of exams.

Robert Pedigo, vice president of client services at Castle, said in a statement that it uses the SAS tool to “access, manipulate and analyze data, and then visually present information as business maps, charts, plots and 3-D relationship graphs.” The data analysis tool is said to reduce the steps needed to ensure the integrity of certification exams from days to minutes, SAS claimed.

In order to ensure the validity of professional testing, each new version of an exam has to be designed to maintain a consistent standard of difficulty. SAS Analytics software is used to ensure that tests are fair and impartial and that test results are valid. Only then do clients like Castle notify companies of a candidate’s test score.

Another factor driving the need for certification of professional exam results is the shift from traditional paper-and-pencil testing to online exams. Online testing “happened more quickly than we anticipated,” said Todd Galati, director of credentialing for the American Council for Exercise, a Castle client that certifies fitness trainers.

Hence, the SAS tool had to cater to the desire for more convenient online testing while helping Castle maintain the integrity of professional testing.

At the same time, Castle said it requires its own enterprise programmers to earn a SAS certification. The analytics firm’s training program prepares programmers to customize certification and licensing tests that are uniformly rigorous while allowing Castle to spot cheating.

Separately, SAS said it is trying to fill a growing data analytics skills gap through university partnerships that include free analytics software and training. It is also working closely with user groups.

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