DANB occasionally receives queries from stakeholders who wonder if DANB will ever administer its exams online and on-demand (that is, over the Internet, not at a secure, proctored computerized test site).
DANB does not currently administer any of its exams, state-specific or national, over the Internet. The reasons are many, but include the following considerations:
1. At this time, the majority of people do not have biometric assessments hooked up to their computers. What this means for employment testing/credentialing is that, without the ability to check identification (either physical ID such as a driver’s license, or physiological ID like a fingerprint), DANB cannot guarantee that the person taking the exam is actually the person who will be allowed to perform dental assisting functions if the exam is passed.
DANB’s mission is to promote the public good by providing credentialing services to the dental community. Because all DANB exams are used by state regulatory agencies (state dental boards and state environmental protection agencies/bureaus of radiological health) as a way of protecting the public by ensuring that the dental assistants have met at least a minimum level of knowledge-based competency, DANB cannot meet its public protection mission, or assist state regulatory agencies in meeting theirs, if it cannot guarantee that the person testing is the person being credentialed (registered, licensed, certified, or otherwise regulated by the state agency).
2. DANB takes the security of its test item banks very seriously. If test security is breached, DANB can no longer use the stolen/leaked items on its exams, because the resulting assessment is flawed (that is, test officials will not know if someone passes the exam because of knowledge, or because of prior exposure to the specific test items).
The non-proctored online environment leaves DANB test items open to a computer hacker, as no item encryption methodology is foolproof. Worse yet, a non-proctored online environment leaves DANB test items open to someone copying them down by hand and passing them along to others. For example, in August 2006, a federal judge concluded that a California company had illegally copied questions from the Multistate Bar Examination for use in its bar exam preparation courses. (The judge ordered the company to pay more than $11.9 million in damages to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.) It is important for DANB stakeholders to know that DANB takes violations such as this (taking a DANB exam for the sole purpose of remembering questions for personal use or to use in developing a study guide/review course) very seriously. Anyone suspected of abusing DANB’s testing process in this manner will face legal ramifications.
DANB’s decision to limit the administration of its exams to secure and proctored settings (on computer or in written form) is based on reasonable concern for exam security and the resultant public protection of both the assistants who perform the legally delegated functions as well as the patients on which these tasks are performed.
3. In addition to security issues, online testing creates a different testing environment for each candidate. DANB exams are high stakes standardized exams. As such, every effort is taken by DANB to ensure the test-taking experience is similar for all candidates. A candidate from Maine should have the same testing experience as a candidate from California.
With online testing, there is no way for a testing organization to guarantee that computer screens are the same size or that the screen resolution is the same for all candidates. These differences can cause graphics to appear differently, giving one candidate an advantage over another. Modem or cable speed differences will cause different testing experiences, which is especially worrisome because there are time limits allotted to each examination. In addition to the computer equipment, the surrounding environment (i.e., type of chair, height of the desk the computer is on, outside noise, etc.) will cause different testing experiences.
When candidates experience different testing environments, this can provide groups of candidates with unfair advantages. Therefore, it is essential that a testing organization does everything possible to create similar testing experiences for all candidates.