Students Snap Pictures of PARCC Test, Teachers Disciplined

By Catherine Gewertz — May 05, 2015 2 min read
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Teachers in three Colorado school districts have been scolded or disciplined for lax security during the PARCC exam because students were able to post pictures of the test on social media sites.

According to the Denver Post, two teachers from Denver got letters of reprimand, two from Pueblo were disciplined, and one teacher from Douglas County was told she couldn’t proctor another round of tests.

The tricky intersection of online testing and social media caused a furor in March, when a New Jersey student tweeted about parts of a common-core test.

Like the flurry of incidents in Colorado, the New Jersey story was about new ways of cheating in the age of computer-based tests and omnipresent social media. But it was also about the dawning realization that assessment companies routinely monitor social media as a way of policing test security, and then pass information about breaches to state departments of education, who then ask districts to trace the violators.

Judging by the outcry, that gave a lot of people the creeps. State departments and assessment companies argued that their actions were simply an updated way to monitor test security, and pointed out that they were doing broad sweeps of social media, not tracking individual students.

In Colorado, the current breaches stem from students’ actions, but include those of the teachers assigned to proctor the tests and make sure students don’t breach the security of the questions. And it’s not a large-scale problem, either: The Post reports state education department figures that show that of about 540,000 Colorado students taking PARCC, there have been only 10 social media breaches in five districts this spring.

The incident in Denver involved students who had access to cellphones during testing, in violation of a PARCC security agreement that bars such access, according to the Post. The district’s assessment chief instructed all schools to be sure that cellphones and other devices, such as watches, headphones, and iPads, were collected from students before they began the test.

How far can a teacher go, however, in making sure all students have surrendered their cellphones? That question was raised by the Denver teachers’ union. Pam Shamburg, the executive director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, told the Post that teachers shouldn’t be disciplined for things they can’t control. And she added that teachers aren’t allowed to frisk students.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.