Test Security and Cheating: Part 3

Test security agreements are the first line of defense protecting our tests, our customers and our candidates from test security breaches.

As a signer, the individual agrees on behalf of their agency they will conduct due diligence to protect the content found on all test materials. For example:

Beware of storing test materials in a locked car. We dealt with a situation where a vehicle was stolen with our tests inside. While the individuals responsible may not have been interested in the test materials, it would be very difficult for your department to administer a test without them.

  • Signers will not share test materials with anyone in the agency who is not a signer (barring an exception discussed below).
  • When not in direct possession of the tests, signers must ensure all physical testing materials are stored under lock and key in a location only the signer can access (e.g. in a locked closet that only a signer can access, a locked file drawer or a signer’s office, which remains locked anytime the signer is not present).
  • Electronic files related to our tests should be stored on computers protected with a login and password. If files are stored on a shared network drive, they should be in a protected folder that can only be accessed by the test security agreement signer.

As Robert Burd mentioned in his previous article, cheating is not only a problem from candidates outside the agency, but also from inside personnel trying to help their friends or colleagues. That is why it is paramount to follow and abide by the guidelines outlined in our security agreements.

The most important thing to remember is that non-signers should never be allowed to handle or see IPMA-HR test products.

In addition to following the terms of our security agreements, every department should have a policy outlining what steps to take when dealing with a cheating situation. Without a policy in place, it may prove difficult to act upon an incident of cheating.

The lack of a clear security policy caused confusion during one test administration where a proctor noticed a candidate copying answers from another candidate’s answer sheet. The proctor did nothing to stop the situation because they were not sure of the department’s policy for dealing with a situation like this. The proctor ultimately submitted a written report of the incident after the administration was complete, but this report was deemed inconclusive and no further action was taken.

Your policy should take into consideration the course of action your agency will take in both an entry-level situation, where candidates will primarily be new potential hires, as well as during a promotional test, where a significant number of candidates will likely be staff currently employed by your department.

You should also familiarize yourself with our item review and challenge procedures. Details are freely available to TSA signers in our publication Considerations in Handling Item Challenges, which reviews the precise steps your agency must take if a candidate requests to review or challenge promotional test questions. These procedures are extremely important to the security of our tests.

Key Points from Considerations in Handling Item Challenges:

  • Candidates may not review their answer sheet or the test answer key.
  • Test materials cannot be left unsupervised with candidates.
  • Under no circumstances should test material be removed from the designated review area.

It is extremely important to remember that entry-level tests may not be challenged under any circumstances.

Test Security Agreement (TSA)

This is the primary security document that every agency must have on file before they receive inspection copies, test materials, documentation, or publications. The document itself is a very thorough review of security expectations for all individuals handling IPMA-HR test materials.

All signers should watch the following video before signing the agreement.

Also, please make sure to check with us to see if your TSA is up to date, before placing a test order.

Who should sign a TSA:

All Test Security Agreements need to have a Principal Signer who agrees to the terms of the agreement on behalf of their agency. We require that the Principal Signer be a top-level staff member at the agency, such as an HR Director or Manager, a Civil Service Chairperson, or Chief of Police or Fire.

With a Principal Signer in place, that individual may then appoint appropriate subordinates as Alternate Signers. Alternate signers are employees who are entrusted to order, receive, store and/or administer tests; they may include HR staff (e.g. HR Analysts), administrative ranks within police and fire, as well as Training and Testing Coordinators. The Test Administrator is often an alternate signer, as this individual may handle the whole testing process.

In terms of ordering power and ability to receive test materials, there is generally little to no difference between principals and alternates. However, we strongly feel that it is important for top-level management staff at your agency to be knowledgeable about our security requirements and to make a decision as to which staff members receive direct access to our test materials.

It is important to note that IPMA-HR does not recommend operating departments receive test shipments directly because having candidates working in the area presents a security risk. We strongly recommend that test orders from operating departments be channeled through a centralized HR department or civil service commission.

Key TSA Points:

  • IPMA-HR is the owner of all test materials with signer agencies using materials on a lease only basis
  • Materials should only be opened by a signer, not administrative staff.
  • No test material may be reproduced for any reason (photocopied, photographed, or otherwise)
  • All candidates must be provided with a new, sealed test booklet. Under no circumstances may a test booklet be re-used to test additional candidates.
  • Test materials should never be made available to candidates before the testing process.

Limited Access Security Agreement (LASA)

The LASA is available to provide unsupervised access to our test materials to individuals who play a part in the testing process, but should not have the authority to receive those materials directly.

A test proctor who will be required to maintain the security of test materials but who is not involved with the process of selecting or ordering that test is a perfect example of an individual who should sign a LASA.

The LASA is also an important agreement to consider for public safety operating departments that conduct their own testing. An administrative Sergeant heavily involved with the process of testing entry-level candidates, but should not have the ability to order a promotional test that he or she may one day take, should sign a LASA.

Key LASA points:

  • The security requirements outlined in the TSA regarding the use of our materials apply to LASA signers as well.
  • Individuals who have signed a LASA may handle test materials, but not directly receive them. A TSA signer must provide the LASA signer with test materials.

The New York and New Jersey Port Authority Police recently had to deal with a subject matter expert going rogue by taking cell phone pictures of the test with his phone. Be careful, keep an eye on how your SME’s review test materials.

What about Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)?

SMEs have their own category within IPMA-HR security policies. Since your agency may have a large number of SMEs involved in selecting a test, we do not require each of those individuals to complete a security agreement. Instead, we require that a TSA or LASA signer be present during a group review with SMEs. Test materials should not be left alone with the group, nor should they be allowed to leave the area being monitored by the signer. If such a situation arises, the SME should sign a Limited Access Security Agreement.

What about test proctors?

IPMA-HR defines proctors as individuals chosen by the signing agency to assist an administrator in carrying out various tasks during the testing session, such as handing out test materials, keeping time and monitoring the testing room.

Like SMEs, test proctors should never receive unsupervised access to test materials. They are not test administrators, so they should not be responsible for keeping or handling test materials outside of the test administration.

Prior to administration, a TSA or LASA signer should train all proctors on security procedures you’ve instituted based on IPMA-HR security requirements and your agency’s established rules.

The following video discusses the above information in more detail.

Test Security and Cheating: Part 2

As indicated in the first article on this topic, a great deal can be learned from cheating schemes perpetrated on other agencies. This learning pursues two avenues, with the first being what the jurisdiction itself learned, what it did in response to minimize the damage and prevent further incidences in the future. The second avenue provides the path that you as an individual can take in terms of “brain storming” how to prevent such an occurrence within your own jurisdiction. Beyond that process, we should rely on the cumulative information available in the HR profession that is designed to provide test security and prevent cheating as the foundation for an anti cheating and test security program.

Test security agreements such as those developed by IPMA-HR and an agencies civil service rules provide a good starting blue print for establishing an effective test security/anti cheating plan. While these documents usually represent the best thinking of those who developed them, they should not be seen as exhaustive. So in addition to incorporating these guides in your own anti cheating plan, you can also benefit by using them as a basis for brain storming additional ideas that can deter cheating. In that regard, to develop your anti cheating program it is important to systematically look at the points in the test development, administration, and maintenance process that may be vulnerable. The other half of developing a sound program is to look at the other side as well in regard to who might be motivated to cheat. Dissecting the test process and potential cheaters provides a systematic approach to developing an effective preventative program. Continue reading

Test Security and Cheating: Part 1

If your jurisdiction has ever been the target of a cheating scheme or scandal then you are very familiar with the costs of cheating. Writing new tests, conducting new recruitments and administering new selection procedures are time-consuming and costly, yet they represent only a portion of what could be considered the costs of cheating. Perhaps the biggest potential costs of cheating are those incidents where cheating goes undetected, resulting in incorrect selections for promotions or filling entry-level positions. Whatever the costs and whatever the long-term impacts may be, the sad truth is that cheating still occurs.

A cheating incident from 2009 underscores the impact of cheating scandals on agencies and should serve as a warning for individuals with the responsibility of preventing cheating, as well as any individual that may consider cheating. In this case, a member of the testing committee provided test questions to a lieutenant who subsequently provided them to an officer studying for the test. That officer went to internal affairs and an investigation was launched. In addition to scrapping the test,  four police officials were temporarily removed from their duties pending the conclusion of the investigation. Two eventually left the department. The cloud of suspicion and distrust continues to hang over the department and the ultimate negative affects are incalculable. Continue reading