The superintendent of the Watchung Hills Regional High School District in New Jersey has confirmed that she sent an email to fellow superintendents Tuesday about her concern that education publishing giant Pearson is “monitoring” children’s social media accounts for possible leaks about the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests.
On Friday, Bob Braun, a former leading columnist for The Star Ledger in New Jersey, posted on his blog and Facebook page an email superintendent Elizabeth Jewett sent to colleagues regarding Pearson’s monitoring of social media posts by students in her district. The email reads:
Good morning all,
Last night at 10PM, my testing coordinator received a call from the NJDOE that Pearson had initiated a Priority 1 Alert for an item breach within our school. The information the NJDOE initially called with was that there was a security breach DURING the test session, and they suggested the student took a picture of a test item and tweeted it. After further investigation on our part, it turned out that the student had posted a tweet (NO PICTURE) at 3:18PM (after school) that referenced a PARCC test question. The student deleted the tweet and we spoke with the parent – who was obviously highly concerned as to her child’s tweets being monitored by the DOE. The DOE informed us that Pearson is monitoring all social media during PARCC testing. I have to say that I find that a bit disturbing. – and if our parents were concerned before about a conspiracy with all of the student data, I am sure I will be receiving more letters of refusal once this gets out (not to mention the fact that the DOE wanted us to also issue discipline to the student). I thought this was worth sharing with the group.
According to Braun, he contacted Jewett by email and found she had discovered “three instances in which Pearson notified the state education department of the results of its spying.”
Braun said Jewett wrote to him:
In reference to the issue of PARCC infractions and DOE/Pearson monitoring social media, we have had three incidents over the past week. All situations have been dealt with in accordance with our Watchung Hills Regional High School code of conduct and academic integrity policy. Watchung Hills Regional High School is a relatively small district and a close-knit community; therefore, I am very concerned that whatever details your sources are providing may cause unnecessary labeling and hardship to students who are learning the consequences of their behavior.
On Saturday, Jewett posted a letter to the district’s website, confirming Braun’s information:
On Friday, March 13, 2015, Bobbraunsledger.com published a story referencing an email I had sent to other superintendents about issues regarding PARCC testing and Pearson’s monitoring of social media. The email shown in his article is authentic. It was an email I sent on March 10, 2015 at approximately 10:00AM to a group of superintendents to share my concerns and to see if other schools had a similar experience. I did not authorize the release of this email nor am I aware of who did release it. I am also not aware of the motives they may have had behind the release. That said, I completely stand behind my comments as they represent not only my views and concerns; they also represent the views and concerns of our Board of Education.
The article references instances involving students during PARCC testing and any related disciplinary action. For student privacy issues, we cannot comment on any of the specific students or discipline referred to in the article. What I am able to share is that all issues have been dealt with in accordance with our Code of Conduct, Academic Integrity and Acceptable Use of Technology Policies.
Our main concern is, and will always remain, supporting the educational, social and emotional needs of our students. The privacy and security of student information remains the utmost priority for our district.
The district will have no further comment on this matter at this time.
After posting his article about Pearson’s spying on students’ social media accounts, Braun tweeted the following, indicating his blog was shut down for “denial of service:”
My blog has been subjected to a "denial of service" attack for exposing Pearson., Please let hem know you won't stand for it.
— Bob Braun (@BobBraunsLedger) March 14, 2015
U.K.-based Pearson, the world’s largest education company, administers the test for the federally funded interstate consortium known as Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Testing is scheduled in March and May amid a growing movement of parents opting their children out of the tests.
According to Braun, New Jersey is paying $108 million for PARCC to run its testing program.
The Washington Post notes that Pearson spokeswoman Stacy Skelly said in response to the controversy about the corporation’s monitoring of students’ social media:
The security of a test is critical to ensure fairness for all students and teachers and to ensure that the results of any assessment are trustworthy and valid.
We welcome debate and a variety of opinions. But when test questions or elements are posted publicly to the Internet, we are obligated to alert PARCC states. Any contact with students or decisions about student discipline are handled at the local level.
We believe that a secure test maintains fairness for every student and the validity, integrity of the test results.