More than 1/3 of California bar exams taken online in October were flagged for possible cheating, the state bar reported after the testing software program alerted authorities.
California Bar's Committee of Bar Examiners is "currently reviewing 3,190 applicants" out of 9,301 who took the exam, according to a Dec. 4 statement by state bar official Tammy Campbell. According to Bloomberg Law, test takers were flagged based on several rules infractions, including having cell phones or other electronic equipment during the test, as well as gazing off-screen or having food.
The inquiry, first reported by the ABA Journal, puts test takers flagged by the system at risk of being required to retake the exam, which is typically required before a law school graduate is allowed to work as an attorney in the state. Any review that substantiates widespread cheating also could give critics of bar exams in California and other states further ammunition to promote alternatives like diploma privilege, which allows law school grads to get licensed without taking an exam. -Bloomberg Law
"We believe there were multiple factors that contributed to the number of flagged videos, including the unprecedented nature of this first-ever online remote bar exam and the large and diverse population who took it in California," said state bar spokeswoman Teresa Ruano, adding "We will continue to refine and improve this process based on learnings from this first online exam."
Attorneys for several flagged test-takers say the allegations are preposterous and an overreaction. Georgia-based lawyer Megan Zavieh who has offices in California is representing over two-dozen of the applicants who were contacted by the CA Bar, and said that some of her clients received letters accusing people of moving their eyes out of camera range at the wrong moment.
"It’s not only, ‘no, I didn’t do that.’ It’s, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about," she said.
California shifted to an online bar exam in October due to the pandemic. Most states which have done so are using Dallas-based ExamSoft to provide software. The company uses AI proctors who are logged into test takers' computers, including web cams, to monitor behavior.
So-called “Chapter 6 Notices” of potential violations were sent to numerous test takers after ExamSoft video-file software flagged the conduct to the Bar, according to ABA Journal.
That spurred students to hire lawyers like Zavieh and Pasadena, Calif.-based ethics attorney Erin Joyce.
Joyce said her clients are concerned because of the impact the notices they’ve received might have on their ability to gain permanent or even provisional law licenses—even if they’re ultimately exonerated. “They’re frightened and they’re angry,” she said. “They put a lot of effort and expense into the test.”
Chapter 6 Notices contain allegations that are either “disputable” or “indisputable,” according to a list of frequently-asked questions the Bar posted on its website. A dozen types of alleged infractions are disputable and thus eligible for a hearing, according to a state bar Chapter 6 “Decisional Matrix.”
Indisputable allegations include those in which the test taker possessed notes or other study aids, or electronic devices like cell phones or digital watches. Disputable allegations, which can be contested by a hearing, include having radios or stereos, or “food or beverages, including but not limited to coffee and water,” in exam rooms during a remote-proctored exam.-Bloomberg Law
The allegations of cheating comes fresh on the heels of a similar online cheating scandal at West Point, where over 70 cadets were accused of cheating on a calculus exam last spring.
Fifty-nine of the cadets admitted to cheating on the test, which was taken remotely rather than on academy grounds due to the pandemic, according to West Point officials. Two of the cases were dropped for lack of evidence, four cadets resigned, and eight cadets face honor code hearings which could result in their expulsion, according to public affairs director Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt.
"The honors process is working as expected, and there have been no exceptions to policy for any of these cases," said Ophardt, adding "Cadets are being held accountable for breaking the code."