Letter: Testing center operations: response to Iowa State Daily article


Max Goldberg/Iowa State Daily

Letter writer Mark Woolley clarifies some points regarding Iowa State’s testing center operations. 

Mark Woolley

Editor’s note: This letter is a response to ‘Instructors experience issues with ISU Testing Centers.’

While we appreciate the focus that the Daily brought to our testing center operations, I want to clarify a few points related to the recent article regarding testing center operations. 

“The ISU Testing Centers operate differently today than they did in 2019…”

While we have changed since pre-COVID, it is important to note that we have implemented change every year since 2014, when the centers were challenged by increasing enrollment. Our approach has always been to meet our core goals focusing on continuous improvement opportunities for the benefit of students and faculty. 

We did implement changes during COVID semesters that remain, including:

  • Using IP filtering in the testing centers to eliminate the need for passwords which improves efficiency and increases security.
  • Continuing block scheduling to ensure students have a 2.5-day window to make an appointment at a time that works for them.
  • Reducing the number of proctors in each Center to minimize the stress in the room without jeopardizing academic integrity standards.

“During COVID, they shut the testing centers down and…”

The testing centers were open during COVID, albeit with reduced capacity. Many instructors were not able to use our facilities while dealing with students on campus, off-campus, and in quarantine/isolation. In some cases, instructors started the semester with us but later decided to manage assessments independently, given the multiple scenarios they were handling.

“It was put into place this semester…”

The appointment system was implemented beginning fall 2020 for health and safety reasons. We realized other benefits were possible around operational efficiency, cost controls and reduction of lines at Carver 60. Test-takers have reported that the scheduling system ensures they can show up at a time and feel confident they will not have to wait in line. Also, students have said they benefit from making an appointment in one of the less busy locations, at an off-peak time, to reduce stress and distractions from a full center.

We did experience complications Sept. 12 when the scheduling application vendor had technical issues. The problem was identified on the evening of Sunday (9/12) for exams starting Wednesday afternoon (9/15). The team worked rapidly to develop a workaround and communicated updates with instructors. Updates included notification at 8:30 a.m. Monday to identify the issue, another update at 1 p.m., and finally, a workaround resolution was communicated, and the system was back up and running by 5 p.m. the same day, less than 24 hours from when the issue surfaced.  While this was stressful for all involved, we were not aware of anyone who could not take their exam due to the glitch.

Finally, the Daily report is correct that we regularly review procedures and systems to look for opportunities because there is always room for improvement. However, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the work that the present and past staff and proctors have done to this point. Their work includes safely and effectively proctoring nearly 1 million exams since the 2014 KCCI report.

Mark Woolley is the director of Engineering-LAS Online Learning.