Fallout From Pearson’s New Jersey Spygate Controversy

new-jersey-state-flagIn response to news that Pearson is monitoring student social media during PARCC testing a few people have made the point if a student’s Twitter account or Facebook account is public then it is open for public consumption and monitoring.  I can agree with that.  I also understand that social media monitoring happens all of the time with companies tracking hashtags and a simple search can show somewhat what Twitter or (a little harder to do) Facebook is saying about them.

This is typically done to monitor how your branding is doing or to respond to a customer service issue.

Pearson however was monitoring student social media during PARCC testing to turn over problem posts to the New Jersey Department of Education.

If that doesn’t fit the definition of big brother I don’t know what does.

And the fallout continues…. Bob Braun reports on his Facebook page yesterday that Pearson and the New Jersey Department of Education was called to appear before the New Jersey Assembly Education Committee this morning:

The chairman of the NJ Assembly Education Committee has asked for a representative of Pearson to appear before his panel Thursday to explain the testing company’s surveillance of social media sites of New Jersey students taking PARCC exams. Assemblyman Patrick Deignan (D-Middlesex) also has asked state Education Commissioner David Hespe to appear to explain the surveillance program and the relationship between the state agency and Pearson, which holds a $108 million contract from the state.

Braun writes on his blog that New Jersey is paying $100,000 to Caveon Test Security, a subcontractor to Pearson, to determine whether students are revealing anything about PARCC.

NJTV News reports that Pearson says the monitoring isn’t about hindering free speech:

Pearson, which has $100 million contract to administer the tests in New Jersey, insisted that the monitoring was not about controlling speech, or “spying” on anyone. They say the integrity of the tests is the priority, posting a statement on its web site, which read, in part: “…when test questions or elements of a test are posted publicly to the Internet, including social media, we are obligated to alert PARCC states. Any contact with students or decisions about student consequences are handled at the local level.”

Save Our Schools New Jersey issues a statement:

New Jersey parents are very concerned about the revelations regarding our children’s communications being monitored. Parents also are very concerned that the New Jersey Department of Education is coordinating the monitoring with the Pearson Corporation, and that the Commissioner of Education or his staff might be calling districts and telling them to discipline individual students, as apparently happened in the Watchung Hills situation.

These revelations speak to the general lack of transparency around the PARCC tests. For example, neither parents nor children were told that student communications would be monitored or even what constituted a data breach on the PARCC tests. Since the March and May PARCC tests are each given over a period of a month, expecting children as young as eight not to discuss any aspect of the test for that long is also unrealistic.

There have been multiple opportunities for the New Jersey Department of Education to respond to parents’ questions about how it is protecting student privacy, including at last Thursday’s Senate Education Committee hearing. Instead, those concerns have been brushed aside and the NJDOE has insisted that all student data is being kept completely confidential. Clearly that is not the case.

We need legislative hearings on this immediately, to understand fully the level of monitoring of our children that is being done by Pearson and other corporations, and the level of data tracking coordination between Pearson and the NJDOE. We encourage the NJDOE to suspend the May testing round until those questions can be addressed. Failing to do so will further decrease the participation in the PARCC tests as parents become increasingly aware and concerned.

2 thoughts on “Fallout From Pearson’s New Jersey Spygate Controversy

  1. Pearson should not be monitoring nor reporting to the NJDOE anything on student accounts.Children have always and will always talk about tests. What Pearson and the Common Core advocates don’t want is information getting out about how horrible these tests are. They are confusing, poorly worded and poorly designed. But with no feedback from the test takers, poor quality testing materials costing taxpayers millions of dollars and costing teachers and students valuable classroom time will continue to proliferate. This is unacceptable and should be stopped.
    On another note, I was told by my granddaughter, who is in high school in NY, that they must sign a form along with the test that states that they will not discuss the test with anyone and list penalties for doing so. Since when is it LEGAL for a commercial entity who has the time and lagal staff to force minors to enter into contracts before taking a test. None of these students have had the opportuntiy to confer with their parents, mush less a legal team before being coerced into signing such a form. Has anyone even addressed this situation?

    1. I hear the same comments from my child about the test content but no one had to sign a non-disclosure statement. Maybe our students should be paid a consultant fee for “testing” the test. Apparently Pearson didn’t bother to do that before delivering the product. I’ve heard that students write sarcastic answers because this year in our schools the test grades aren’t being used – and the test questions are ridiculous. One word problem in math included an equation with X and Y and then asked the student to solve for N. On another math question an Unresolvable Syntax Error message came up when the equation on the screen was typed into the online graphing calculator.

      I told my child and friends not to tweet anything about the tests, especially actual content.

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