The Way Ahead for Army Correspondence Course Program on-line testing
March 17, 2008
FORT MONROE, Va. (TRADOC News Service, Mar. 17, 2008) - On Dec. 16, the commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), Gen. William S. Wallace, directed the command, which oversees Soldier training and standards, to determine the depth of the problem associated with the Army Correspondence Course Program's (ACCP) on-line testing and take action on those issues that TRADOC controls.
In July 2007, TRADOC became aware that a Website (shamschool.com) was posting answers to ACCP exams. A subsequent Army investigation determined a Soldier had developed a Website and posted ACCP exams and answers that could be downloaded by anyone who visited the Website. The Soldier has since been discharged from the U.S. Army.
For many years, Army correspondence courses have been a part of the enlisted promotion process. The program is a formal nonresident extension of the TRADOC service schools' curriculum and is used to prepare Soldiers for advancement in their military careers. Soldiers can receive one promotion point for every five hours of ACCP. The total number of points possible for military education, which includes Army schools and training, is 200. The number of points a Soldier needs for promotion varies with specialty and needs of the Army. The more courses a Soldier completes, the more points he or she receives toward promotion, up to the 200-point limit. The ACCP's final exams represent evaluations of a Soldier's ability to comprehend course material.
With the advancement of the Internet and communications and information-sharing technology, both military and civilian on-line testing became vulnerable to countermeasures that had once been used to effectively maintain the integrity of the program, specifically the testing phase.
In mid-December of last year, the Boston Globe published the results of a five-month investigation into alleged on-line cheating by Soldiers, asserting that "hundreds of thousands of packages of completed exams had been downloaded by soldiers over many years."
"Cheating violates our core Army values," said Wallace in mid-December in response to the article. Referring to the importance the issue has on Army institutional culture and on the advancement of junior Soldiers to the rank of sergeant and beyond, Wallace added, "The backbone of our Army is our noncommissioned-officer corps. Each and every one of them must live the Army values and be leaders of character. The institution depends on them."
After the Boston Globe article appeared, Gen. Wallace directed a top-down review of ACCP policies and practices and committed nearly $6 million to overhaul the ACCP, hiring experts and integrating new software. As part of the top-down review, a 12-person panel was formed to find solutions to the cheating problem.
In the overhaul of the testing environment, proctored exams were considered but quickly rejected by the review team, as it would have put additional stress on Soldiers who are already time-stressed, and would have unfairly disenfranchised Reserve and National Guard Soldiers who would have had to travel to proctoring centers on their own time and sometimes at their own expense. Course testing will remain as open-book exams, and the tests will still be in a multiple-choice format, but Soldiers will begin to notice significant changes in May and June. These changes will align the Army's ACCP with the best practices in the commercial sector and meet or exceed American Council on Education standards.
Additional initiatives aimed at resolving the ACCP on-line testing vulnerabilities include:
The testing will have Soldiers being presented with one of three questions per subject area. The computer will select the question at random and will present questions one at a time on a single screen. The order of the answer within the question will also be random, so a Soldier will get a random question in random order.
The ability of Soldiers to print out the questions that come up on the screen will be limited.
Soldiers may fail the test only twice. If they fail the test a third time, they will be disenrolled and have to wait up to 90 days to re-enroll. This limits a Soldier's ability to repeatedly take the test to review all the questions until he can compile the answers over time.
The Army is looking at using Army Knowledge On-Line (AKO), which requires Soldiers to log-in using Common Access Cards (CAC), and its current protective measures as a method to add integrity to the test process and reduce the possibility of test-taking by someone other than the Soldier enrolled in the course.
Soldiers who sign up for large courses will be required to wait for what is considered a reasonable amount of time to study for it, acknowledging that a one- to eight-hour course could conceivably be completed in a day or two.
Soldiers will be able to take up a maximum of 1,000 academic hours a year, broken down to about 120 hours a month. Commanders will be able to waive that restriction if it is needed for a specific mission or task.
The penalties under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for cheating on the tests will now be spelled out at the top of the exam, instead of at the bottom, which is the past practice. In striking the "submit" button, a Soldier is acknowledging he understands the penalties under UCMJ.
The Army is looking into legal means to protect on-line tests from being posted to websites.
Taking a cue from private-sector universities, the Army is contracting a company to do a review of its hardware and software system to make sure there are no holes.
Test-sharing Websites like shamschool.com and accpanswers.com will be blocked from the dot-mil domain.
The Army is considering moving the content of ACCP under the NCO Education System and its guided self-development program within the next 18 months.
Additionally, as part of ongoing efforts to transform the military education system to better suit the career advancement of today's Soldier, the Army is revising all its on-line course procedures to meet American Council on Education guidelines for the award of college credit.
TRADOC continues to review the conduct of its on-line courses. By enacting the recommendations of the 12-person panel, the Army strives to ensure that the points Soldiers gain for promotion through correspondence courses are earned honestly and with integrity.