Written by John Fremer, President, Caveon Consulting Services
Last week I had the wonderful experience of officiating at the wedding of a granddaughter to a very fine young man. Part of my job was to make some observations about marriage* to the couple and the audience. I found myself thinking later how some elements of my comments have a counterpart in what I think about test security.
The Most Important Thing
In marriage, the most important thing is love. Yes, you need steady employment and good health care arrangements, a supportive family, and a bunch of other things but love is the “tie that binds” and the salve that heals. Each partner will make mistakes and sometimes communication lines will be strained. If you nourish your love for each other, the chances of getting through life’s big and small challenges as a couple are much, much better.
For test security the most important consideration is validity in test professionals’ terms or fairness in everyday language. We want each test taker to be able to demonstrate their skills and knowledge on a level playing field. It is simply not fair for some to have prior access to test questions or to receive assistance during an exam. It is flat out awful for the responses of some student test takers to be changed by an educator after the fact from wrong to right. Evaluating all plans, policies, and actions for their contribution to fairness is a critical element of a high quality testing program just as love is central to a good marriage.
There are Many Sides to a Marriage
Marriage is an official and legal relationship. It is also a public statement of a commitment and a complex and developing process. The partners change and grow and their ways of communicating and connecting need to evolve to continue to be productive and personally rewarding.
Test security is also a complex phenomenon. It requires the coordinated efforts of all parties involved, including all who come into contact with test items, scores, and other confidential information. The greatest responsibility will be carried by the Test Security Coordinator or other person with the primary test security assignment, but many others need to understand their roles in test security and discharge them with care. You frequently hear some variant of the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child.” In test security as in marriage, many must cooperate on an ongoing basis to have the level of quality that we want to achieve and maintain.
It Doesn’t Matter Who is at Fault
For marriages to flourish, avoiding keeping score is critical. Sure couples disagree. They are human beings and each partner brings their own perspective and values to experiences. Sometimes the husband will be right and sometimes the wife. On occasion both will be right or both wrong. In situations where communication is not functioning well, such outcomes can be fairly common.
In promoting test security, focusing on fixing the security vulnerability that has been discovered has to be the primary objective, not finding out who is to blame. If your operational test items have shown up on the Internet, available for all to view, you will want to work very hard to find out how that happened so you can reduce your risk of repeated problems. For the short-term, though, you need to focus on how to manage your program right away. Do you need to replace tests or item pools? Re-schedule test administrations? Change identification requirements? Getting to the “root of the problem” is important. Keeping your testing program running to provide fair and valid results is priority one.
*John has had the good fortune of being married to his wife, Judith, for 54 years.