Pearson Education admits spying on students’ social media accounts

From EAGnews.org:

Pearson Education has admitted to monitoring the social media accounts of students nationwide for possible breaches of information about the Common Core-aligned PARCC tests.

On Friday, Bob Braun, a former columnist for New Jersey’s Star Ledger, posted an email sent by Watchung Hills Regional School District Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett to her colleagues expressing her concern about the monitoring of students in her district.

Jewett’s March 10th email, which she has since confirmed to the Washington Post and on the district’s website to be legitimate, read as follows:

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 the Washington Post, after requesting comment from Pearson about the unauthorized monitoring of students during PARCC, the education giant’s spokeswoman Stacy Skelly said this in an email:

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.

According to Braun, who communicated with Jewett by email, Jewett also said that she discovered three instances in which Pearson notified the state education department of the results of its spying, adding that the three “situations have been dealt with in accordance with our Watchung Hills Regional High School code of conduct and academic integrity policy.”

In a letter posted to the district’s website on Saturday, Jewett again confirmed the authenticity of her March 10th email to her colleagues, and also stated that she did not authorize the release of the email, was not aware of who released it, or of their motives in doing so.

Jewett’s letter continues:

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.

In a personal email to Braun, Jewett wrote that she is “very concerned that whatever details [Braun’s sources] are providing may cause unnecessary labeling and hardship to students who are learning the consequences of their behaviorals.”

In response, Braun wrote an update to his previous post stating that he felt he “must point out the irony” of Jewett lecturing him about protecting the identity of students “when she has just dealt with both an inexcusable breach of privacy involving minors and an attempt by state government to punish dissent.”

In 2013, it was reported here that Pearson Education had released a series of videos proudly showcasing its “vision for the future of education”, a vision that would also violate student privacy.

Specifically, Pearson’s ‘vision’ includes teachers and school administrators having instant access to an individualized schedule on each student that includes their whereabouts and extra curricular activities outside of school.

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