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Pearson Hijacking Student’s & Parents’ Information

Publishing giant Pearson Education has been monitoring social media to identify students who might be leaking information about certain tests administered by the company.

The math and English tests — called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC are being developed by a consortium of states in conjunction with Pearson to measure students’ preparedness for life after graduation. Pearson said the states contractually required it to monitor public social media posts to make sure students did not disclose test questions.

“It’s one thing to protect intellectual property, but this raises far too many questions,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers’ union, wrote in an email on Tuesday. “How is Pearson monitoring students? What information about students does Pearson have, where did it get it, and what will it keep? Is Pearson reviewing everything students post? What protections are there for student privacy?”

In an email, Elizabeth C. Jewett, the superintendent of the Watchung Hills Regional High School District in Warren, N.J., told her colleagues that Pearson had notified state education officials of a security breach in the belief that a student at the school had taken a photograph of a question during the test and posted it on Twitter. The state officials, she wrote, asked that her school discipline the student. Although the student did post a comment on Twitter, she wrote, it was only after the test, and the report of a photo of a test question was spurious. “The student deleted the tweet and we spoke with the parent — who was obviously highly concerned as to her child’s tweets being monitored” by the Department of Education, Ms. Jewett wrote. “The DOE informed us that Pearson is monitoring all social media during PARCC testing. I have to say that I find that a bit disturbing”

In its statement, Pearson described as a fairness measure its efforts to prevent test questions and other sensitive information from being disclosed.

“A breach includes any time someone shares information about a test outside of the classroom — from casual conversations to posts on social media,” the statement said. “Again, our goal is to ensure a fair test for all students. Every student deserves his or her chance to take the test on a level playing field.”

But some parents and privacy advocates contended that using personal information collected about students in an educational context to covertly monitor them on social media was an unfair practice. “How did they figure out what district the kid who tweeted was in?” Allison White, a parent of a high school student in Port Washington, N.Y., said in a telephone interview on Monday. “Did they use any of the personal information they had access to in the testing database?”

“Previously, Pearson would take the knowledge that they found from public postings — the student’s state, name and school — and check it against its list of students registered to take PARCC at that school to see if that person was actually scheduled to take the test,” Jacqueline Reis, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, wrote in an email on Tuesday afternoon.  But she said the consortium of states had asked Pearson to stop checking names against its own list of students.

Pearson has access to student information through its PowerSchool website which teachers use to take attendance, complete report cards, etc. On PowerSchool is the student’s address, birthday, phone# and picture, not to mention parent names and numbers. So when they monitor social media they have access to this information, unlike other companies which do not. This is a problem; no one is monitoring this unlimited access Pearson has to this information. We need to wonder who has access to this within Pearson? Have they had background checks? After all, these are children we are talking about. Pearson has made millions if not billions through the use of glitchy software and error filled tests. So it should be no surprise when stories like this come out. It is not about test security, this is about making the sure the money train keeps coming their way.

When we took SATs, GEDs, etc. in olden times we always discussed test questions after the exam. Since when have questions become top secret? Aren’t all the exams given on the same day like the Regents or AP exams?

Who gave Pearson, a privately-owned corporation that is not affiliated with any Federal national security agencies, access to our children’s private social media? This is alarming!

Pearson is out of line. Once the test has been administered, it is out in the open – it is no longer a secret. Pearson has to accept that reality. Kids will compare notes, comment on questions that they found difficult, or stupid. Pearson has to accept that reality too.

Pearson wants to protect its test questions as proprietary assets, which is good for their bottom line, but totally bypasses the primary use of a test which is to determine exactly what a person does, and does not know. All the test questions should be released after the test, to aid teachers and schools in the process of understanding where learning was weak, especially since neither schools nor teachers can improve without feedback.

And frankly, why Pearson has any expectation that they can enforce some sort of contractual non-disclosure agreement across millions of minors, when they themselves take no contractual responsibility to ensure privacy, is beyond me.

 There are a number of things that Pearson can do to protect the integrity of their examinations.  They could change the order of the questions.  They can develop different examinations to eliminate cheating.  But those things cost money so it is easier and cheaper for them to give a “one-size fits all examination” and continue to access students’ and parents’ information.

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