Publishers Actively Monitoring Testing Students' Social Media Posts For Possible Cheating

from the to-maintain-test-integrity-but-also-because-we-can dept

Major corporations are actively monitoring social media during standardized tests. This is being done to "protect" the "integrity" of test questions and answers. None of this is particularly surprising, other than the fact that a member of school administration was the one to blow the whistle on it.

Students in New Jersey are in the middle PARCC testing right now. This is a new standardized test which is administered by Pearson. It's not without its detractors; many parents are opting their kids out of the test, and after what Pearson just did I'm sure the number will grow.

A blogger by the name of Bob Braun got his hands on an email one NJ school district superintendent sent out to a mailing list. Said email discusses a dire "security breach" in which a student tweeted a mention of the recent PARCC test.
The superintendent's email wasn't sent to remind teaching staff to keep a better eye on testing students. It was sent to inform the rest of them about a situation she (Elizabeth Jewett) found unacceptable. [all emphasis hers]
Good morning all,

Last night at 10 PM, 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. 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 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 this disturbing -- and if our parents were concerned before about a conspiracy with all 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.
Well, the news has gotten out, spreading from Bob Braun's blog to the New York Times and Washington Post. Pearson remains unapologetic for its protection of its test turf, noting that it only monitors public social media posts and cross-references those to ensure it's only reporting currently-testing students to various education agencies. All well and good, but when a private company wields the power to nudge public schools into disciplining students for so-called "security breaches," it's a bit of a problem.

This widespread coverage has prompted several educational entities to take action.
In response to parent concerns, states using Pearson’s new PARCC exam did ask the company to stop cross-checking the names of students suspected of making inappropriate posts against the company’s list of registered test-takers. And New Jersey officials said Thursday that they would review the monitoring process to make sure student privacy is not compromised.
But Pearson isn't the only company keeping an eye on students for school administrators. Politico's coverage contains statements from a number of social media monitoring companies that provide surveillance tools and reporting to a variety of institutions.

Caveon is monitoring social networks on behalf of Pearson to safeguard against leaks of Common Core testing questions. Others -- like the infamous Geo Listening -- are there simply to monitor and report.
Enter the surveillance services, which promise to scan student posts around the clock and flag anything that hints at bullying, violence or depression. The services will also flag any post that could tarnish the reputation of either the student or the educational institution. They’ll even alert administrators to garden-variety teenage hijinks, like a group of kids making plans to skateboard on school property .

Some of the monitoring software on the market can track and log every keystroke a student makes while using a school computer in any location, including at home. Principals can request text alerts if kids type in words like “guns” or “drugs,” or browse websites about anorexia or suicide. They can even order up reports identifying which students fritter away hours on Facebook and which buckle down to homework right after dinner.
Other programs scan all student emails, text messages and documents sent on a school’s online platform and alert school administrators — or law enforcement — to any that sound inappropriate.
Some of the tools run covertly. Others are expressly pointed out by administration to increase the deterrent factor. Some even go so far as to cross-reference multiple social media accounts in order to strip away students' anonymity on networks where no "real name" is required.

These companies generate tons of data and possible "hits," but how useful are they? Gaggle, a service that scans emails, texts and discussion boards for "anything inappropriate," says it sends "thousands" of alerts to schools every year. But its contribution to a better-behaved student body is decidedly minimal.
In Deerfield, Gaggle has unearthed just one serious incident in the past the 18 months — an eighth-grader emailing a nude photo of herself, [Deerfield Superintendent Michael] Lubelfeld said.
The same goes for the other monitoring software deployed by Lubelfeld's school district -- which monitors students' computer usage. Only a "few violations" have been detected despite its constant presence.

Sure, the accounts may be public and there's no expectation of privacy in tweets, Facebook posts and school computer usage, but Pearson's monitoring didn't restrict itself to testing hours or even, indeed, school hours. The scope of these companies' surveillance lends itself to tons of false positives, and this can have a very negative effect on students who are going to find themselves punished for off-campus behavior -- or worse, for doing nothing wrong at all.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2015 @ 1:41pm

    Necessary skills

    The schools do need to teach kids how to survive in a totalitarian surveillance state.

    That's their future, the poor dears—they're going to need those skills.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 30 Mar 2015 @ 2:01pm

      Since the administrators' hatred for young people has been so evident...

      I wonder why they don't just shoot the kids or send them straight to permanent detainment, rather than trying to implement their elaborate deathtrap.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 30 Mar 2015 @ 3:53pm

        Re: Since the administrators' hatred for young people has been so evident...

        You don't murder, or liquidate, pawns. They're for sacrifices. "The value of a prole is dependent upon its ability to be subservient." Paraphase.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2015 @ 5:07pm

          Re: Re: Since the administrators' hatred for young people has been so evident...

          No, they are a commodity to be bought and sold. What's the futures market in teenagers these days?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2015 @ 1:50pm

    "punished for ... doing nothing wrong at all"

    Since punishment might therefore appear inevitable, I think the average kid will quickly work out that the correct response will be to do lots of wrong things and at least have some fun between punishments. Easy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2015 @ 2:30pm

    But if they crack down on cheating, how will the government find new employees?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Mar 2015 @ 2:45pm

    Crowdsource now

    It is time for the watched to become the watchers, administrators, board members, teachers the whole lot. Lets shine a bright light on some of their misbehavior, You Tube the lot. Put an end to this sanctimonious, hypocritical invasion of privacy with some turn around pay back, a little goose and gander if you will. Remember it is the administrators and board that authorize and pay for this behavior with YOUR tax money. Feet to the fire time folks!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AGW, 30 Mar 2015 @ 3:12pm

    Answer to that

    Just make all posts about tests "Friends only" problem solved.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    sorrykb (profile), 30 Mar 2015 @ 6:37pm

    The superintendent's email wasn't sent to remind teaching staff to keep a better eye on testing students. It was sent to inform the rest of them about a situation she (Elizabeth Jewett) found unacceptable.

    Hooray for Elizabeth Jewett! It's good to see an administrator, and a superintendent at that, acting in the students' best interest.

    P.S. Is there a "sincerity" tag (as a contrast to the /s sarcasm tag)? I feel like I should add it here, since I'm genuinely praising a school administrator.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2015 @ 4:38am

    But what if students talk offline about tests or other personal stuff?
    They can't monitor that, yet.

    But with our new and improved school micropho...bugs... I mean "buttons" we can do that.

    Who would't like to have such a nice "button" on them all the time, they might even talk about school some day and you wouldn't want us to miss this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2015 @ 7:46am

    Some kudos are in order...

    For once we have a story about a school administrator that actually has a spine and a brain and recognized when the system was failing the students and did the correct thing here. Bravo, Ms. Jewett. Well done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    KoD (profile), 31 Mar 2015 @ 8:01am

    While I find this sort of behavior reprehensible, I by no means want to go down the path of legislating against it. Hopefully public shaming can do the trick. Creepy Pearson.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    mellow_dude100 (profile), 31 Mar 2015 @ 10:28am

    This post from infoDOCKET has reprrts about students in Colorado and Maryland getting reprimanded.

    http://www.infodocket.com/2015/03/22/colorado-students-reprimanded-for-sharing-test-info rmation-via-social-media/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 31 Mar 2015 @ 10:50am

    As a youth I was plagued by continuous disagreements between Scantron tests and the cheap #2 penciles I was issued.

    I was okay with the once-a-year placement tests (and SATs) where the spots were circular, but the ones with dash-shaped rectangles always gave me trouble.

    That's a technical issue.

    But so far we've already seen that all standardized tests do is compel school districts to value test scores over the welfare of the students. We've seen all sorts of shenanigans to expel students because their test scores affect negatively the school average, which in turn affects funding.

    This is the end result of No Child Left Behind: children left out.

    So I have no qualms about kids cheating like fire to pass those tests, since the alternative is them getting kicked out of school for costing the district money. Frankly, those kids should be bribing / blackmailing / extorting maybe even murdering their way through school. Since the administrators seem so eager to ruin the lives of young people, it's only appropriate that reprisal is in order.

    Maybe when this level of desperation surfaces, it will drive us to change our school policies to actually prepare children for adult life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      sorrykb (profile), 31 Mar 2015 @ 11:29am

      Re: As a youth I was plagued by continuous disagreements between Scantron tests and the cheap #2 penciles I was issued.

      I was okay with the once-a-year placement tests (and SATs) where the spots were circular, but the ones with dash-shaped rectangles always gave me trouble.

      argh. I had forgotten about those. I hate rectangles.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Mar 2015 @ 2:40pm

    That is only one part of this story. The other part is the fact that the company running the database is run by the husband of a woman who works in the NJ Education Department that is pushing the PARCC test.

    And of course, none of their kids go to public schools.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Socrates, 4 Apr 2015 @ 5:02am

    Over zealous testers

    It is spreading. Sadly.

    In Norway the traditional adaption of teaching have been through talking with each child, and through observing what each child responds well to in actual teacher-pupil learning situations.

    In Oslo (in Norway), this is changed by force to a frequent standard test regime. Against most teachers will, and to the suffering of the many pupils.

    The change is in contrast to proven methodology, and in direct opposition to scientific studies. They even have adopted systematic negative feedback to vulnerable children. It is presented as a right to frequent feedback.

    The children who does not reach the quota is forced to draw a sad-face on their test. To really bring home the notion that they are a failure.

    The result is a vast uptake in children that don't want to go to school. Psychosomatic suffering as stomach pain is proliferating. Psychologist have expressed warnings but is being ignored.

    As common in USA, the school funding in Oslo is linked to these standard tests. As could be predicted schools in Oslo have begun considering rejecting the very children that the government officials said would benefit from it.

    Why is such shit spreading?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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