Proctorio’s client roster grew more than 500% in the period 2019-2021, despite numerous complaints, lawsuits, and allegations of bias.
Femi Yumi-Ese was a junior at the University of Texas at Austin at the time of the coronavirus epidemic. He started attending classes and taking tests remotely from an apartment he shared in the city with his roommates. Yemi Ese is a former Division 1 footballer who majored in kinesiology. He had never been anxious during tests. “Being in sports as long as I was, getting yelled on by coaches, doesn’t cause me to get stressed much,” Yemi-Ese said.
At first, he was not concerned when he found out that Proctorio, a software program that monitors cheaters, would be administering several of his classes. Yemi -Ese was able to open the application for the first time and took a photo. Proctorio denied that it could detect his face in the image and refused to allow him into his exam. Yemi–Ese turned on more lighting and tilted his camera so that his face was at the most illuminated angle. The software finally approved him to begin.
Yemi Ese, a Black test-taker, has used software that fails to find his face consistently for three semesters. When Yemi-Ese sits down to take Proctorio exams, he switches on every light in the bedroom and places a ring light behind his computer so it shines directly into his eyes. He admitted that even with all these preparations, he still didn’t know how to recognize the camera. Last November was the first time we spoke.
He said that in seven Proctorio exams, he had not been allowed to take a test once on his first attempt. Although adding sources of light may seem to be helpful, it can also have its consequences. “I feel like there’s a beam of light shining into my eyes throughout the exam,” he stated. “It can be difficult to not look away when you are actively trying to avoid looking at the screen, which can make it appear like you are cheating.”
Proctorio works as a browser plugin and can detect your gaze. It monitors how often you look at the screen, type, and move the mouse. It will compare your activity to a class average as the exam progresses and flag you if you are not following the rules. Proctorio will also be watching for any unauthorized faces or materials in the room. After the exam, Proctorio will give a report to the instructor on each student’s overall “suspicion score” and a list of marked moments so the instructor can review when it was suspected of cheating.
Yemi Ese found out last spring from a Zoom meeting that the software had flagged Yemi for moving too fast. “I feel like they’re watching me for all these movements and they’re going flag my natural state to take the test,” he said. After his exam was canceled, his fear of using the software increased when a roommate dropped something in the kitchen. The clang echoed through their apartment.
Proctorio states that the software doesn’t ban people from exams for making noise. His professor had already allowed him to return to the exam, and he was losing half an hour. “I had no choice but to calm down,” he stated. Proctorio could send a video to the professor to warn him if he shows signs of anxiety. So I don’t know if the software is seeing things that aren’t there due to my skin pigment.
Yemi Ese’s grades plummeted in The Pandemic. He attributed this to Proctorio. After being displaced from their home in February by the storm that decimated Texas, Yemi Ese had to take several tests. He was forced to crash with a number of his friends. (In addition to other difficulties, the situation deprived him of his usual light setup. Yemi Ese still struggled to get into every Proctorio exam by the end of his senior year. He was able to improve his grades to pre-pandemic levels in all classes that required Proctorio. “I guess I became numb to it after I realized nothing was going on to change,” he stated.
Proctorio (ProctorU), Examity, and ExamSoft were among those that received immediate benefits from the closing of college campuses in March 2020. In a survey, 93% of college instructors indicated concern that students might cheat on the online exams.
Some companies offer live proctoring, which is underwritten with artificial intelligence. ProctorU reported in December that it has administered around four million exams in 2020. This is up from the 1.5 million it administered in 2019. Examity told Inside Higher Ed its growth last spring exceeded pre-pandemic expectations of thirty-five percent.
Fully algorithmic test monitoring–which is less expensive, and available from companies including Proctorio, ExamSoft, and Respondus Monitor–has expanded even faster. Proctorio’s client list grew by more than 5100%, from 4100 in 2019 to 2500 in 2021. Its software administered an estimated 21 million exams in 2020, as compared to 4 million in 2019.
A wave of complaints has resulted from the increase in online proctoring. Nearly 30 thousand signatures were collected for a protest sent to the cuny administration. Anti-online-proctoring Twitter accounts popped up, such as @Procteario and @ProcterrorU. One student tweeted: “professor just sent me an email asking why I had received the highest flag from the proctor.” Excuse me, ma’am.
I was having an emotional breakdown during the test and was pulling tissues.” Another claimed received an urgent message from a parent while taking an exam. The third said calling back, “on speaker phone so that my prof would know that I wasn’t cheating”- to find out that a relative had died. “Now proctor is watching me cry,” wrote the student.
Anecdotes from other students also highlight the biases built into proctoring systems. Students with darker skin reported that the software failed to recognize their faces. Students from low-income families have been flagged as having unsteady Wi-Fi or taking tests in rooms that are shared with family members.
Proctorio’s ID verification procedure for transgender students has led to their arrest. This requires that they take a photo with an I.D. This may be a previous name. ProctorU has ordered test-takers to remove all non-religious hair covers and bonnets in video calls. This has caused online backlash from Black women. Also, students using Wi-Fi in libraries in the public sector have been asked to remove their protective masks.
Jarrod Morgan was the chief strategy officer for ProctorU. He told me that ProctorU needed to make “relational”, rather than technical, changes. He stated, “We’ll admit that our explanations of what we do are not good enough.” Sebastian Vos is the C.E.O. ExamSoft’s C.E.O. Sebastian Vos denied that ExamSoft’s product was not a success with dark-skinned customers. He said that there are often issues that are published that do not really issue.
On December 3, six U.S. senators emailed Proctorio, ProctorU, and ExamSoft to request information about their company’s efforts to protect the civil rights of students. They also requested proof that their programs safeguard the data they collect. Proctorio replied with a long response that defended its practices.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a non-profit organization, filed a complaint with the attorney general of D.C. claiming that five proctoring companies illegally collect students’ personal data. Recently, many students from Illinois sued their institutions because they used the software. The claim was that it violated their rights as a result of a state law protecting the privacy and biometric data of residents.