Pearson Monitors Students’ Social Media Surrounding PARCC

NJ Spotlight News | March 16, 2015 | Education
Pearson is monitoring social media accounts to ensure students don't share test questions.

By David Cruz

The controversy over the administering of the PARCC tests has reached a new level as Pearson, the company administering the tests, confirmed that it is monitoring the social media accounts of students taking the tests, theoretically to stop students from sharing test questions. For parents already suspicious of the test, this was one more reason to be concerned.

“Honestly when I first saw the story, I couldn’t believe that it was true; it struck me as creepy and downright Orwellian,” said Education blogger Sarah Blaine.

It was Watchung Hills Regional High School District Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett who raised the alarm about the monitoring in an email sent to colleagues.

“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.”

She goes on to say: “I am sure I will be receiving more letters of refusal once this gets out.”

“At this point my organization, Save Our Schools New Jersey, is calling for immediate public hearings on this matter and suggesting that the May PARCC tests be suspended until the public gets a true and complete description of exactly what’s going on,” said Susan Cauldwell.

Pearson, which has $100 million contract to administer the tests in New Jersey, insisted that the monitoring was not about controlling speech, or “spying” on anyone. They say the integrity of the tests is the priority, posting a statement on its web site, which read, in part: “…when test questions or elements of a test are posted publicly to the Internet, including social media, we are obligated to alert PARCC states. Any contact with students or decisions about student consequences are handled at the local level.”

The state did not return several calls for comment, but it’s clear where they stand on the issue. Here’s Gov. Chris Christie from a recent town hall in Fair Lawn, when asked about it: “Before you even know whether the test has efficacy or not, don’t opt your kids out of it. You know, we’re gonna have to test kids and I’m gonna try to make sure that we test them as reasonably as possible.”

The state’s Department of Education won’t have figures on the number of students who’ve refused or opted out of the controversial tests, but the number is in the thousands, according to published reports. It’s unclear what impact, if any, these latest revelations, will have on those numbers.

It turns out the student who was the catalyst for all this monitoring actually tweeted about a question on the PARCC tests and not the question itself, and he did it after school hours. Still the superintendent of the Watchung Hills Regional District said the state wanted the district to discipline the child. Meanwhile, the tests, and presumably the monitoring, is ongoing.