ExamSoft’s proctoring software has a face-detection problem

Gabe Teninbaum, a professor at Suffolk College Legislation College, is looking on ExamSoft to repair a critical bug with its test-taking software program: failure to acknowledge faces. It’s an issue that may delay check takers — or bar them from beginning their exams altogether — and per stories, it disproportionately impacts individuals with darkish pores and skin tones.

ExamSoft’s software program data college students whereas they full distant exams and screens for indicators of educational dishonesty. Teninbaum’s report addresses an ExamSoft function referred to as ExamID, which goals to confirm that test-takers are who they are saying they’re. The primary time a pupil logs into their examination portal, they add a photograph of themselves (their “baseline picture”); they’re then prompted to take one other selfie earlier than starting future exams, which the software program checks in opposition to their unique picture.

Research has found that facial-recognition algorithms persistently make extra errors in figuring out Black faces than they do white ones. And whereas these research didn’t give attention to ExamSoft particularly, it doesn’t look like an exception. Again in September, a number of non-white exam-takers advised the New York Times that the software program couldn’t establish them on account of “poor lighting” — an issue that Teninbaum, who has mild pores and skin, wasn’t in a position to replicate.

Early this fall, Teninbaum got down to discover a repair. He believes such errors add undue stress to an already nerve-racking time interval. “These are college students who’re about to take a high-stakes examination with lots on the road, and that’s very unwelcome,” Teninbaum mentioned in an interview with The Verge.

“Any time you go into an examination you simply need to give attention to the examination,” he added. “You don’t need to really feel like you may have these added challenges.”

Teninbaum additionally believes that optics matter; faculties owe it to marginalized college students to not depend on a class of software program that’s recognized to be discriminatory. “College students should really feel that their establishment is doing what it could possibly to guard their rights, pursuits, and dignity,” he says.

In his report, which is forthcoming in The Journal of Robotics, Synthetic Intelligence, and Legislation, Teninbaum outlines the workaround he discovered.

He means that faculties assign each pupil an equivalent generic, baseline picture. Then, he proposes, they need to ask ExamSoft to allow “deferred identification,” a function constructed into the software program that permits college students to proceed with exams even when identification fails. This function is mainly hidden — it’s not talked about anyplace on ExamSoft’s web site (no less than, not that I might discover). Solely ExamSoft can flip it on.

In tandem, these tweaks will trigger ExamSoft to misidentify each test-taker. However they’ll nonetheless be capable of proceed with their exams — ExamSoft will ship the selfies to the college afterwards, and instructors can manually confirm everybody. “We all know who our college students are,” Teninbaum says. “We are able to make certain the scholars are who they are saying they’re and keep away from subjecting college students to those types of challenges.”

He additionally means that ExamSoft make the “deferred identification” function accessible to clients. “The reporter urges ExamSoft to construct this right into a function by which establishments can merely toggle on/off, thereby bypassing ExamID till such time that the expertise matures into one that doesn’t discriminate,” his report reads.

Teninbaum hopes these modifications will final past the COVID-19 pandemic, and might help college students really feel extra comfy taking distant lessons. “It’s going to be a rising drawback as individuals get an increasing number of on-line for his or her schooling,” he says.

Even so, he’s solely fastened a part of the issue. College students have skilled a range of hiccups with ExamSoft’s proctoring software program. Over 3,000 individuals who used the platform to take California’s bar examination in October had their movies flagged for potential rule violations — practically 36 p.c of candidates who took the web examination. Customers reported audio points, and different technical glitches as nicely.

A gaggle of six US senators — together with Richard Blumenthal, Elizabeth Warren, and Corey Booker — wrote an open letter to ExamSoft in December, highlighting potential harms to college students of shade and college students with disabilities, amongst quite a few different considerations.

ExamSoft didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

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