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The Army soon will roll out measures aimed at cracking down on rampant cheating in correspondence courses enlisted soldiers take to gain promotion points.
By May the Army will begin introducing what it hopes will be air-tight testing procedures for the 1,186 online correspondence courses.
The fact that soldiers seeking promotion to sergeant and staff sergeant were blatantly cheating by sharing test answers, primarily through Web sites and compact discs, long had been an open secret within the Army. But, after recent media reports exposing such practices, Training and Doctrine Command commander Gen. William S. Wallace directed a review of the Army Correspondence Course Program. The six-week review confirmed the ongoing cheating and led to the new reforms.
New guidelines will include controls that restrict access to test answers by limiting the number of questions available at once and making those random. Courses will also have more stringent user identification requirements, and soldiers will be limited to how many times they can take a test within a certain period of time.
Wallace was briefed on the review findings Jan. 25 and accepted all of the recommendations made by a 12-person TRADOC team.
"Gen. Wallace clearly recognized that we had a problem with our ACCP as evidenced by stuff in your paper and others," Col. Jim Markley, TRADOC capability manager for the Army Distributed Learning Program, told Army Times.
After the cheating scandal first came to light in newspaper reports last summer, TRADOC dedicated about $6 million to hire the experts and buy the equipment needed to overhaul the program.
According to Markley, more than 300,000 active and reserve soldiers are enrolled in the ACCP, most of them in the rank of staff sergeant and below.
Soldiers who pass the tests for courses included in the ACCP then add points under the military education portion of their promotion worksheets.
"There is no way of knowing how many points have been lifted" through cheating schemes, Markley said.
But until TRADOC is able to determine an equitable procedure for identifying and reporting potential cheaters, soldiers will not be singled out for punishment, — even those who appear to be cheating now, he said.
"Soldiers have been seen, but they have not been dealt with because part of what we're doing is we don't yet have a firm set of procedures on who does what when we find a soldier who's been cheating," Markley explained.
The development of a handbook with guidelines for reporting violations is one of the initiatives recommended in the review.
Course testing will remain open-book exams, and the test will still be in a multiple choice format, but soldiers will begin to notice some significant changes in May and June.
Modifications to the program include:
• The testing phase will have three possible questions per subject but the soldier will only be able to see one question on the screen. The computer will choose one at a time to pop up randomly. The order of the answer within the question will also be random, so a solider 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. "The really smart ones will be able to figure out how to do it in spite of what we do, but we're going to do our best to limit their ability to do that," Markley said.
• Soldiers may fail the test only twice, then be dis-enrolled and will have to wait 30 to 90 days to re-enroll. This limits a soldier's ability to repeatedly take the test to review all the questions until so he can compile the answers over time.
• Soldiers will be required to use their own Common Access Cards to access courses and tests. This would eliminate test-taking by someone other than the soldier enrolled in the course. About 30,000 CAC card readers will be purchased and soldiers can download the reader software through Army Knowledge Online.
• Soldiers who sign up for large courses, like a 40-hour pre-commissioning course, will be required to wait between the day they sign up for the course and the date they can take the test. This would weed out those who have been taking the test in less than what is considered a reasonable 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 a maximum of 1,000 academic hours a year, broken down to about 120 hours a month, but commanders will be able to waive that restriction if it is needed for a specific mission or task.
• Test-sharing Web sites like Shamschool.com and accpanswers.com will be blocked from the dot-mil domain.