Superintendent Confirms Common Core’s Pearson Spying on Kids’ Social Media Accounts

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The super­in­ten­dent of the Watchung Hills Region­al High School Dis­trict in New Jer­sey has con­firmed that she sent an email to fel­low super­in­ten­dents Tues­day about her con­cern that edu­ca­tion pub­lish­ing giant Pear­son is “mon­i­tor­ing” children’s social media accounts for pos­si­ble leaks about the Com­mon Core-aligned PARCC tests.

On Fri­day, Bob Braun, a for­mer lead­ing colum­nist for The Star Ledger in New Jer­sey, post­ed on his blog and Face­book page an email super­in­ten­dent Eliz­a­beth Jew­ett sent to col­leagues regard­ing Pearson’s mon­i­tor­ing of social media posts by stu­dents in her dis­trict. The email reads:

Good morn­ing all,

Last night at 10PM, my test­ing coor­di­na­tor received a call from the NJDOE 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 high­ly 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 that a bit dis­turb­ing. – and 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 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.

-Liz

Accord­ing to Braun, he con­tact­ed Jew­ett by email and found she had dis­cov­ered “three instances in which Pear­son noti­fied the state edu­ca­tion depart­ment of the results of its spy­ing.”

Braun said Jew­ett wrote to him:

In ref­er­ence to the issue of PARCC infrac­tions and DOE/Pearson mon­i­tor­ing social media, we have had three inci­dents over the past week. All sit­u­a­tions have been dealt with in accor­dance with our Watchung Hills Region­al High School code of con­duct and aca­d­e­m­ic integri­ty pol­i­cy. Watchung Hills Region­al High School is a rel­a­tive­ly small dis­trict and a close-knit com­mu­ni­ty; there­fore, I am very con­cerned that what­ev­er details your sources are pro­vid­ing may cause unnec­es­sary label­ing and hard­ship to stu­dents who are learn­ing the con­se­quences of their behav­ior.

On Sat­ur­day, Jew­ett post­ed a let­ter to the district’s web­site, con­firm­ing Braun’s infor­ma­tion:

On Fri­day, March 13, 2015, Bobbraunsledger.com pub­lished a sto­ry ref­er­enc­ing an email I had sent to oth­er super­in­ten­dents about issues regard­ing PARCC test­ing and Pearson’s mon­i­tor­ing of social media. The email shown in his arti­cle is authen­tic. It was an email I sent on March 10, 2015 at approx­i­mate­ly 10:00AM to a group of super­in­ten­dents to share my con­cerns and to see if oth­er schools had a sim­i­lar expe­ri­ence. I did not autho­rize the release of this email nor am I aware of who did release it. I am also not aware of the motives they may have had behind the release. That said, I com­plete­ly stand behind my com­ments as they rep­re­sent not only my views and con­cerns; they also rep­re­sent the views and con­cerns of our Board of Edu­ca­tion.

The arti­cle ref­er­ences instances involv­ing stu­dents dur­ing PARCC test­ing and any relat­ed dis­ci­pli­nary action. For stu­dent pri­va­cy issues, we can­not com­ment on any of the spe­cif­ic stu­dents or dis­ci­pline referred to in the arti­cle. What I am able to share is that all issues have been dealt with in accor­dance with our Code of Con­duct, Aca­d­e­m­ic Integri­ty and Accept­able Use of Tech­nol­o­gy Poli­cies.

Our main con­cern is, and will always remain, sup­port­ing the edu­ca­tion­al, social and emo­tion­al needs of our stu­dents. The pri­va­cy and secu­ri­ty of stu­dent infor­ma­tion remains the utmost pri­or­i­ty for our dis­trict.

The dis­trict will have no fur­ther com­ment on this mat­ter at this time.

After post­ing his arti­cle about Pearson’s spy­ing on stu­dents’ social media accounts, Braun tweet­ed the fol­low­ing, indi­cat­ing his blog was shut down for “denial of ser­vice:”

 

U.K.-based Pear­son, the world’s largest edu­ca­tion com­pa­ny, admin­is­ters the test for the fed­er­al­ly fund­ed inter­state con­sor­tium known as Part­ner­ship for Assess­ment of Readi­ness for Col­lege and Careers (PARCC). Test­ing is sched­uled in March and May amid a grow­ing move­ment of par­ents opt­ing their chil­dren out of the tests.

Accord­ing to Braun, New Jer­sey is pay­ing $108 mil­lion for PARCC to run its test­ing pro­gram.

The Wash­ing­ton Post notes that Pear­son spokes­woman Sta­cy Skel­ly said in response to the con­tro­ver­sy about the corporation’s mon­i­tor­ing of stu­dents’ social media:

The secu­ri­ty of a test is crit­i­cal to ensure fair­ness for all stu­dents and teach­ers and to ensure that the results of any assess­ment are trust­wor­thy and valid.

We wel­come debate and a vari­ety of opin­ions. But when test ques­tions or ele­ments are post­ed pub­licly to the Inter­net, we are oblig­at­ed to alert PARCC states. Any con­tact with stu­dents or deci­sions about stu­dent dis­ci­pline are han­dled at the local lev­el.

We believe that a secure test main­tains fair­ness for every stu­dent and the valid­i­ty, integri­ty of the test results.