An attempt to monitor students’ social-media use to prevent the sharing of test information—initially flagged by a school superintendent in New Jersey—has generated a blast of criticism toward the PARCC assessment and at Pearson, the contractor hired to administer it.
The controversy emerged this month when Elizabeth C. Jewett, the superintendent of the Watchung Hills Regional Learning Community in New Jersey, wrote a letter to other district leaders voicing surprise about how information about a possible testing breach had been relayed to her. She said that she had received an alert from the state’s education department, which had in turn learned from Pearson about a student supposedly sharing the content of a test question via Twitter.
After investigating the issue, Ms. Jewett said that the initial report was false. But in her letter, she said the department told her that Pearson was monitoring all social media during the administration of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests—a practice that the superintendent said she found “a bit disturbing.”
“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 [to take tests] once this gets out,” Ms. Jewett wrote.
Pearson, in a statement, said maintaining test security is “critical to ensure fairness for all students and teachers and to ensure that the results of any assessment are trustworthy and valid.”
“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.”
Michael Yaple, the director of public information and strategic partnerships for the New Jersey education department, said in a statement there was nothing new or unusual about the state’s practices for monitoring social media and other Internet content generated by students to protect test security.
A PARCC spokesman said in an email that using social media to share images of test questions is the “2015 equivalent of a student photocopying test items and handing them out.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 25, 2015 edition of Education Week as Pearson, PARCC Knocked for Monitoring Students’ Social Media