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As previously mentioned, many concerns have been raised about the validity of using a computer to score constructed response items, especially essays (ie Powers et al, 2002) In fact, Powers et al (2002) conducted an experiment where they explicitly asked their participants to try to trick e-rater into assigning their essay a score that was either too high or too low E-rater is the computerized essay grader developed by ETS for use in grading the essay portion of the GRE, which utilizes scoring algorithms based on the rules of natural
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language processing Therefore, if examinees know how the examination is scored, there may be ways in which examinees can write essays that would result in high scores from e-rater but low scores from a human grader Participants in the Powers et al study (2002) varied in their ability to trick e-rater One participant a professor of computational linguistics wrote a few paragraphs and then repeated them 37 times, which fooled e-rater into giving the highest score possible, whereas the two human graders gave it the lowest score possible Across the 63 essays in the study, the two human graders agreed within one point (on a six point scale) 92% of the time whereas e-rater agreed with a human grader within one point 65% of the time E-rater has been improved as a result of this study, and Powers et al note that e-rater would now be able to correctly score most of these essays that had previously tricked it Furthermore, the sample of participants in this study was not typical of the applicable population, GRE test-takers Speci cally, participants were recruited based on their expert knowledge; the sample included ETS employees involved in developing the writing assessment section of the GRE, researchers with backgrounds in computational linguistics and cognition, and specialists in arti cial intelligence Therefore, the Powers et al study constituted a stern test of computerized essay scoring
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Even if a test provides superb assessment of the latent trait it is designed to measure, examinees pre-knowledge of the test items can compromise its integrity CATs such as the ASVAB and GRE use the same item bank for a set period of time As a result, a conspirator could take the test at the beginning of the administration cycle and memorize as many questions as possible Then, that individual could post those questions on a web-based bulletin board for co-conspirators, who will take the test later in the administration cycle Clearly, the item bank has been compromised and the co-conspirators (who, in turn, may also memorize and post items) have an unfair advantage over honest test-takers Something akin to this scenario occurred with the GRE Apparently, thousands of Asian students collaborated via the Internet to increase their GRE scores Students who tested at the beginning of the administration cycle would post information about the test on a web bulletin board As a result, an abnormally high number of very high scores were obtained by students from, for example, China, which served as a red ag for the GRE Board that something had gone amiss (Ewing, 2002) After a thorough investigation covering over 40 countries, the GRE Board uncovered web sites in China and Korea, also accessible to residents of Hong Kong and Taiwan, that provided item pre-knowledge The computerized version of the GRE was suspended on 6 August 2002 in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea, and the paper-and-pencil GRE was reinstated on 1 October 2002
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In sum, test developers need item banks with large numbers of items to discourage potential cheaters In a CAT program, the item bank should be changed frequently and probably on an irregular basis (changing the item pool on, say, the second Monday of each month would appear to facilitate test compromise) Item statistics should be carefully monitored, probably on a daily or weekly basis, to look for suspicious improvements in examinee performance Clearly, substantial vigilance is required to assure the integrity of any continuous testing program
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