Digital Smarts - Testing Firms Monitor Students’ Social Media Posts

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A national debate is breaking out about testing companies associated with Common Core State Standards exams that are monitoring - or contracting other firms to monitor - social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for sharing of test information and questions. The debate started when a blogger wrote about an incident in New Jersey where a school superintendent was contacted by Pearson, one of the testing companies, and asked to discipline a student for photographing a test item – an allegation that turned out to be incorrect. This incident opened the eyes of many to the fact that the testing companies are monitoring students over the Internet. One of the biggest issues with the test is that there is a 12 week window in which the tests are taken, so as one advisor to the testing companies put it “there's a real concern that someone taking the test early in the window will see questions, problems, graphs, and charts and share them with students across the country.”

While it is understandable for the testing companies to want to protect their assessments, some privacy experts feel these companies are overreaching by monitoring social media to see what students are sharing. Such monitoring is "a violation of students' trust and privacy," and is likely to chill free speech, says Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer for the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based advocacy group. Pearson argues that the social media pages are public and available to anyone browsing the internet, so there is no violation of privacy. Either way, the issue is complex but students should understand that what they post online about tests, even if they are innocuous comments, may have consequences.