Will Pearson's Social Media Monitoring Damage Common Core Adoption?
recent revelation that Pearson
has been monitoring social media to find students sharing Common Core
assessment items has set off a firestorm, but will it disrupt the
adoption of Common Core State Standards and assessments? Is monitoring
social media an invasion of student privacy, or just a means of
protecting intellectual property? THE Journal talked to some education
policy experts to find out.
Bob Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, suggested that social media
monitoring may be unavoidable under high stakes testing regimes, but framed it as a reason to measure education outcomes using
"Ham-handed security, including student monitoring, is an integral
component of all test-and-punish education 'reform' schemes," Schaeffer
said. "Any possible leakage of exam content puts the entire endeavor at
risk. If, instead, schools relied on performance-based assessments,
such as writing projects, science experiments, oral presentations and
work portfolios, the threat of score manipulation through prior
knowledge would be greatly reduced. At the same time, the testing
process would be much more valuable educationally since students would
be evaluated on what they know and can do, not how well they respond to
a series of arbitrary computer-delivered questions."
Schaeffer also said that social media monitoring by public companies
will likely weaken support for Common Core, but won't throw
implementation of the standards and assessments too far off track.
"The controversy surrounding Pearson's admission that the company
monitors social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, to
determine whether students are sharing test questions is yet another
factor undermining public confidence in the new Common Core exams,"
Schaeffer said. "Parents, educators and community leaders are
increasingly fed up with the disruption of classroom learning time and
young people's emotional lives by the fixation on high-stakes
standardized exams. Many are angry that a huge, multinational
corporation is 'spying' on school children. In the short run, it is
unlikely that this practice alone will 'disrupt' Common Core
implementation. But, it does fan the strange bedfellows political
movement that has already forced many states to abandon PARCC and
Smarter Balanced testing."
Lan Neugent, Interim executive director for SETDA, focused on how social media
monitoring would effect policy makers.
"This will likely cause some states to review testing policies and
procedures and contracts with testing vendors," Neugent said. "Some
state boards and general assemblies may take additional action to
protect student privacy and others may sanction action to protect
integrity of assessments."
Neugent also added that any state actions would likely be
independent of Common Core adoption as Pearson has contracts with both
Common Core and non-Common Core states.
"Monitoring the Internet for security breaches is one thing;
however, it's very troubling that Pearson is combining PARCC data with
students' alleged personal social media accounts and then instructing
schools to discipline students because they don't like a particular
Tweet," said Bradley Shear, a Maryland-based lawyer who counsels
educational institutions about technology law and policies and blogs at
"Shear on Social Media Law,"
in a prepared statement. "How does Pearson know a social media account
belongs to a student absent requiring students to verify their
accounts? Students have a 1st amendment right to discuss the PARCC exam
as long they don't take photos of the test questions and post them
online and Pearson has no right to combine those comments with PARCC
data. Pearson must become fully transparent about its troubling
behavior and be held accountable if it refuses to change its practices."
The company has since agreed that it would no longer use PARCC data
to tie social media accounts to individual students, but that may not
be enough for some education leaders, such as Randi Weingarten,
president of the American
Federation of Teachers (AFT).
In a letter to supporters that begins, "Big Brother really is
watching. Outrageously, testing giant Pearson is spying on what
students are saying on social media," the AFT president wrote, "We’re
demanding that Pearson immediately stop monitoring students on social
media and disclose any contract language about test security for full
In a statement on its own site,
the company said, "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 in the education space. But 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
"We believe that a secure test maintains fairness for every student and upholds the validity and integrity of the test."
Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].