Classroom Technology

Social Media a ‘Frightening’ New Threat to Test Security?

By Benjamin Herold — August 12, 2013 2 min read
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For the second consecutive year, hundreds of California students used social media sites to improperly post photos of secure standardized testing materials, putting their schools’ scores and eligibility for academic rewards at risk, the state department of education announced Friday.

All told, 242 California schools were flagged for the improper postings this year, including 16 schools where specific test questions or answers were revealed.

Steve Addicott of test-security company Caveon said he’s not surprised—after all, the “go-to move in this day and age is to go online.”

But Addicott, the company’s vice president for client relations, said he is worried, especially given that dozens of states plan to administer shared exams beginning next year. The new common-core assessments mean “testing windows that are weeks long and take place across multiple time zones, with more and more teachers’ performance being measured by their students’ proficiency,” Addicott said.

In other words, technology is making it easier for students and educators to share test questions and answers, and soon they will have both more opportunities and a greater incentive to do so.

“That, for me, is terribly frightening,” Addicott said.

Last year, 212 California schools were flagged for improper social media postings, including 12 that included test questions or answers. None of the schools’ scores were ultimately invalidated.

This year, though, state education officials “redoubled” their monitoring efforts, according to a department press release.

Most of the postings “look to be attempts by students to gain attention among their friends, not an effort to gain an advantage on a test,” the release reads.

Addicott praised California for actually paying attention to social media for signs of possible cheating. He said such efforts—which can be aided by technology, but ultimately rely on time-consuming human review of potentially troublesome posts—appear to be “inconsistent” and “ad hoc” in most states.

“Someone has to do the heavy lifting, which is pretty menial,” Addicott said.

Caveon currently conducts forensic audits of standardized test results for four states and performs security audits for more than a dozen others.

The most effective deterrent to security breaches via social media, Addicott said, combines vigilance at the moment the tests are being handed out and follow-through after the exams are completed.

“Paying attention to the online conversation is critical to understanding the new security risks,” he said.

California is expected to release statewide test results in the coming weeks.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.