Mercer | Mettl and Online Cheating

The biggest market generally served by online testing and third-party remote proctoring is certainly academic institutions, but these service providers have been expanding to other sectors. While most remote proctoring providers started out administering tests for schools, some have branched out, offering their wares to other government institutions and corporations. Breaking from that mold, Mercer | Mettl provides these services primarily to businesses but has expanded to the education sector.

First India, Now the World

Among its “4000+ Clients,” “Across 80+ Countries,” Mercer | Mettl touts several high-visibility clients, including Microsoft, Amazon, and Uber. Mettl started its story ten years ago in India, specializing in providing businesses with internal talent assessment and external recruitment, particularly on college campuses. In 2018, Mettl was acquired by Mercer, a leading human resources firm and a subsidiary of the Marsh  Companies, a “leading global professional services firm.”

Mercer | Mettl offers three primary services to educational institutions. The first is “Candidate Authentication.” This ensures the test taker is who they say they are. This feature combats the problem of impersonation, that is, having someone else take the test in the student's place. The second feature is proctoring during the course of the test. The foundation of this feature rests on artificial intelligence (AI) software that uses algorithms designed for facial detection, body detection, device detection, and facial recognition. The AI proctoring software is augmented by the Mettl Secure Browser, a safe browsing environment that cuts off access to other websites (or limits access to those allowed by the instructor), disables external ports, and limits screen sharing. The last service is the report provided to the institution after the test. The report includes a “Credibility Index,” which is a single score that purports to rate the test-takers' integrity.

These services are offered in three packages of increasing cost. The first is the “Basic” package aimed at the budget-conscious. This package is fairly simple, in that it only authenticates the user with standard e-mail and password credentials, and the test itself is proctored solely by the AI software. “Basic+ ” adds the secure browser and “Record & Review.” This last feature involves a human reviewing recorded video of the test session where the AI software has flagged suspicious behavior. The most expensive package, “Advanced,” is designed for high-stakes assessments. This package adds identification verification by photographing the student's ID card, and includes “live proctoring with classroom view.” In this mode, a Mercer | Mettl employee watches multiple test-takers remotely and can interact with them immediately if suspicious activity is detected.

Coming to America

While students in the United States may not yet be familiar with Mercer | Mettl as an online testing platform, students in the United Kingdom certainly are. The University of Cambridge uses Mercer | Mettl's testing platform for several admissions tests, but the tests are still taken in brick and mortar testing centers and overseen by live human proctors. Building on its success in schools overseas, Mercer | Mettl is now making headway in the United States education sector. As online proctoring expands, Mercer | Mettl will spread to more and more institutions. It's particularly targeting schools that use popular learning management systems such as Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas. One solution not generally offered by other online proctoring companies is a stand-alone testing application, which may be appealing to some schools that use a proprietary learning management system or don't have an existing system.

With the advances and increasing use of online proctoring services, the incidence of online cheating has also risen. To some test-takers, the temptation to cheat when not being actively observed by a live monitor is too much to resist. Mercer | Mettl's software has several features to prevent and detect such cheating, as noted above, but cheating will continue.

Of note, Mercer | Mettl claims its “AI-based Proctoring” has a “98% Cheating Detection” rate. Such a high rate seems incredible, but to achieve it, how many innocent students are swept up in Mercer | Mettl's cheating suspicion reports? How many false positives are necessary to make this boast true?

The offer of the “Record & Review” option also raises questions about the prevalence of false positives. If the AI software is really as effective as stated, why would review be necessary? How many wrongly flagged incidents are thrown out before the report gets to the school? In the software-only mode, how many false-positives make it to the school?

An Active Defense

If you are accused of cheating, here is what you need to do:

Get the evidence: The post-test report a school receives from Mercer | Mettl includes video from the student's webcam, a recording of the student's computer screen, and a list of suspected suspicious behavior and the associated times. Keep a record of all conversations (digital or otherwise) related to a cheating allegation, possible witnesses, and anything else that might help your case.

Be patient: It's natural to want to answer an accusation immediately, but waiting puts you in a better position. Don't offer anything to administrators, even if it's only an explanation of the observed behavior.

Understand the process: Students should expect that their school has implemented procedures to investigate allegations of cheating. Get a copy of the institution's academic misconduct policies from the student handbook or school administrators.

Understand the testing platform: Which package did the school buy for the test? If it was the “Basic” package, then no one has reviewed the flagged incident before the report gets to the school. So the first review will be at the school by someone likely not trained to detect online cheating. And that's only if the report is reviewed in any depth. How easy would it be to just accuse the student of misconduct and let the investigation sort it out? Having paid Mercer | Mettl to detect cheating, how much time (money) will a school be inclined to spend reviewing flagged reports in-depth? Or is it easier to choose an arbitrary “Credibility Index” number and charge every student above that number with cheating?

National Academic Misconduct Attorney

In any case, you need an attorney-advisor who understands these issues and has experience defending students facing these accusations. Joseph D. Lento knows what you're going through and he has helped countless students accused of academic misconduct, academic integrity, and honor code violations at more than a thousand colleges and universities across the United States. Call the Lento Law Firm now at 888-535-3686 and let us fight for you.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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