Originally published April 15 2015
Education departments, textbook publishers now spying on students' social media accounts
by J. D. Heyes
(NaturalNews) One of the globe's biggest publishers of textbooks and other educational materials, which also designed the standardized tests for the new Common Core curriculum, has taken to monitoring the social media accounts of students to see if they discuss their exams.
As reported by Fox News, Britain-based publisher Pearson, whose U.S. headquarters is located in New Jersey, has the contract for developing the PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) standardized tests; PARCC is one of two entities that developed Common Core.
News that Pearson was involved in monitoring student social media posts for exam comments was first reported by Bob Braun, a former education reporter for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., on his blog.
In recent days Braun put a copy of a letter on his blog that was sent to the staff at Watchung Hills Regional High School District in the town of Warren from Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett regarding the social media monitoring:
"...my testing coordinator received a call from the NJDOE [New Jersey Department of Education] that Pearson had initiated a Priority 1 Alert for an item breach within our school," read the letter from Jewett. " ...they suggested the student took a picture of a test item and tweeted it."
'This concerns me'The educator went on to say in the letter that upon further investigation it was determined that the unnamed student had, in reality, sent a tweet referring to the PARCC exam after school hours and that no picture was included in the tweet by the male student, as previously believed. Jewett also said that the student's parents had expressed concern regarding the social media monitoring while confirming that indeed the publisher had been engaging in such monitoring.
On his blog, Braun noted that the monitoring had since spread:
Two other New Jersey school districts-Hanover Park Regional in East Hanover and South Orange-Maplewood-were notified by state officials that "monitoring"-spying?- Twitter traffic revealed students had used social media accounts to post a forbidden messages regarding the PARCC tests.
"PARCC has a very sophisticated system that closely monitors social media for pretty much everything (comments like the one you shared, test item questions that students use cell phones cameras and take)," Henry Johnson, the state assistant education commissioner in Maryland, told Braun.
So - is Pearson little different than the National Security Agency when it comes to monitoring American citizens without their knowledge or permission? It would seem so.
"The DOE informed us that Pearson is monitoring all social media during PARCC testing," Jewett said in the letter. "I have to say that I find this 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)."
Fox News reported that officials at Pearson would not explain exactly how the company was monitoring student activity. However, it is thought that the company is conducting word searches for any mentions of the PARCC tests on sites like Twitter and Facebook.
'All comes down to money'However, the company did acknowledge the monitoring.
"We believe that a secure test maintains fairness for every student and the validity and integrity of the test results," said the company in a statement.
Jewett's letter is raising concerns throughout New Jersey and elsewhere.
"Twitter is a public forum but the problem here is that you have a large, multinational corporation and a state agency seeking out the bad guys and punishing them," Braun told Fox News. "This is a $108 million dollar contract and the state is turning the power over to Pearson."
"I want to know how they were able to connect a tweet with a kid at a certain district. Pearson was able to track the student down. I'm not able to do that," he added.
Braun says he believes much of the issue comes down to costs. He said if the questions leak, then the company will have to spend money to develop new ones.
Actually, the privacy issue should be the biggest concern, especially to parents.
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