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Education Company Monitors Social Media For Test References 95

theodp writes: As if people haven't found enough to hate about the new 11+ hour K-12 PARCC standardized testing, the Washington Post reports that Pearson, the world's largest education company, is monitoring social media during the administration of the PARCC Common Core test to detect any security breaches, saying it is "obligated" to alert authorities when any problems are discovered. The monitoring of social media was revealed in a message that a New Jersey School Superintendent sent to colleagues about a "Priority 1 Alert" initiated by Pearson in response to a student who referenced a PARCC test question in an after-school Tweet. The news was broken in a blog entry by former NJ Star-Ledger reporter Bob Braun, who also posted the Superintendent's message and called the monitoring of social media nothing less than "spying." Pearson has a contract of more than $100 million to administer the PARCC in New Jersey.
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Education Company Monitors Social Media For Test References

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  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wbr1 ( 2538558 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @09:38AM (#49261089)
    I am as anti-spying as the next guy,but monitoring public postings to prevent cheating is not spying. If you re going to lie, cheat or steal, pass your notes in a private location.
    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 15, 2015 @10:09AM (#49261221)

      This is because people have become so stupid about media that they're no longer able to distinguish broadcast (or publishing) from 1:1 messages. They're using Twitter the way they use IM and then blame others for "listening in".

      • Gnupg Pki + Gmail but be careful about the subject line! But then do people still use email?
      • by Roger W Moore ( 538166 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @11:53AM (#49261707) Journal
        It also appears that the question was posted after the test was taken. In this case there is no security issue because the exam has already been administered. If they are not giving the same exam at the same time everywhere - or at least with enough of an overlap that nobody leaves before the exam starts anywhere else - then the problem is their own broken security model. It's not academic cheating if someone who has completed the exam discusses the questions in public and since they are minors they can't even sign a contract to enforce legal penalties.
        • It's not academic cheating if someone who has completed the exam discusses the questions in public and since they are minors they can't even sign a contract to enforce legal penalties.

          There may not be legal penalties, but there could be academic penalties. Minors get caught and punished for cheating on school tests all the time.

        • It also appears that the question was posted after the test was taken. In this case there is no security issue because the exam has already been administered. If they are not giving the same exam at the same time everywhere - or at least with enough of an overlap that nobody leaves before the exam starts anywhere else - then the problem is their own broken security model. It's not academic cheating if someone who has completed the exam discusses the questions in public and since they are minors they can't even sign a contract to enforce legal penalties.

          This is more or less completely not the way standardized testing works.

          Standardized testing works by using current test questions and possible test questions for the future and mixing them together, scoring some and not scoring others, and relies on being able to re-use questions. That re-use is how you normalize the difficulty of exams. You agree not to discuss the questions.

          The seriousness of discussing them goes up as the professionalism required goes up. Talking about Bar exam questions can be a *mas

          • by Balthisar ( 649688 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @09:56PM (#49264175) Homepage

            It's been a long time since I've taken a standardized test, but I don't remember ever signing a licence indicating my willingness not to divulge the contents. Given the quasi-mandatory nature of PARCC I can't imagine such a EULA having any real weight, if it exists.

            Barring any mutual agreement via a license or other contract, we still have some amount of freedom of expression in the USA, and discussion of a fact, such as the contents of an exam, would fall within that right. Even verbatim copying of some of the questions would fall within the realm of fair use. One might argue that copying the entire exam is fair use, but that's probably not defined in the courts as it is for telephone books and recipes, so I won't make that argument (I will mention it for consideration, however).

            • You as a student don't sign a license as such, but as a teacher you do. Trust me, after a decade of dealing with standardized test NDA's I'm very familiar with them. You're given instructions to monitor conversations during lunch breaks and such. The tricky thing this with this issue is that many times there is a 'window' for a test to be given. The testing companies are worried that students in an earlier part of the window would share with the later part of the window. Honestly I remember reviewing test a

              • Oh, I get that the testing companies want to prevent discussion, and that perhaps teachers are subject to an NDA, but the children are not. Perhaps they're subject to discipline on school grounds, but off grounds there's certainly no legal basis that prevents the children from discussing the contents of a test, whether it be face to face or electronically. I would suspect that the teachers' NDA is probably really a matter of disciplinary action from the administration rather than a signed license agreement,

          • by Anonymous Coward

            This is more or less completely not the way standardized testing works.

            Standardized testing works by using current test questions and possible test questions for the future and mixing them together, scoring some and not scoring others, and relies on being able to re-use questions. That re-use is how you normalize the difficulty of exams. You agree not to discuss the questions.

            This is actually not how you equate versions of exams. There's an entire branch of psychometric theory known as test equating, and it is practiced, in some methods pioneered, by ETS: especially for the SAT, GRE, LSAT et cet. There is a number of different ways, but one of the most common is what is called non-equivalent group anchor tests. Anchor tests are common items across tests, and they can be either internal (they count towards the total score) or external (they don't). You find the regression between

          • That re-use is how you normalize the difficulty of exams. You agree not to discuss the questions.

            If you do it correctly you are re-using some questions out of a very large pool of questions. If some student wants to memorize every question ever asked then let them go for it - they will end up learning the material even if they think they are some how gaming the system. You can also alter some of the details e.g. numbers in a question without really changing the difficulty.

            How do you get a minor to agree to this? Their signature carries no weight and it would be a violation of academic integrity and

      • Encrypt your messages with a key you share with friends. Then you can post all day long publicly and it still be a 1:1 message (assuming your friends don't share your key). Just don't post anything of any real importance.

        Better yet, don't give your accounts the ability to post public messages at all.

        • Better yet, don't give your accounts the ability to post public messages at all.

          Even better yet, don't cheat; spend time actually learning things so you can be a productive, contributing member of society.

    • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

      I am as anti-spying as the next guy,but monitoring public postings to prevent cheating is not spying. If you re going to lie, cheat or steal, pass your notes in a private location.

      I posted publicly on Facebook that I was going to kill President Obama and the next thing I knew I had two very rude USSS agents knocking on my front door. Fucking surveillance state, they didn't even bother to get a warrant....

    • The tweet "referenced a test question" AFTER the exam had already been administered. If Pearson depends on asking the same questions year after year, then WTF are they charging a hundred million bucks for? And how about the fascism of the company demanding the district punish the student for discussing the test after the test?

      Nothing Orwellian here, move along citizen.

    • I am as anti-spying as the next guy,but monitoring public postings to prevent cheating is not spying. If you re going to lie, cheat or steal, pass your notes in a private location.

      The intent is not to prevent cheating. The intent is to only prevent the appearance of cheating. The intent is to prevent students from talking about the test after they've taken it and after they've gotten out of school already. Apparently, Pearson is cutting corners by selling the same test to all the schools no matter what time zone they're located in, or on what day the test is administered, which is the real problem here.

      And so instead of revising its business model, it's spying on students and urging

      • by f3rret ( 1776822 )

        Apparently, Pearson is cutting corners by selling the same test to all the schools no matter what time zone they're located in, or on what day the test is administered, which is the real problem here

        The testing wouldn't be very standardized if they gave everyone different versions of the test, would it?

    • It wasn't cheating/stealing. Nor was it just simple monitoring. What sparked this was that a student posted something after a test (after they left school). They didn't post a photo of the test, just a comment. Pearson contacted the department of education in New Jersey and demanded the student be punished for this action, claiming the student broke confidentiality. The student was questioned and pressured to delete the tweet (which they did).

      Here's where I have a problem with this: Pearson is acting

  • $100 Million??? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BarbaraHudson ( 3785311 ) <barbarahudson@NOSPaM.gmail.com> on Sunday March 15, 2015 @09:43AM (#49261113) Journal
    Yep, someone learned a lesson - there's big bucks in education. Between this and textbook costs, there's something really wrong here.
    • Yeah well that is just 1 state. This is nationwide, so likely a billion dollar boondoggle...

      • Yeah well that is just 1 state. This is nationwide, so likely a billion dollar boondoggle...

        New Jersey is a special case. Pearson is headquartered there, receives huge tax breaks, and is a donor to Chris Christie's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Letting Pearson run your education testing system makes about as much sense as letting Oracle design your health insurance website.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          Yeah well that is just 1 state. This is nationwide, so likely a billion dollar boondoggle...

          New Jersey is a special case. Pearson is headquartered there, receives huge tax breaks, and is a donor to Chris Christie's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Letting Pearson run your education testing system makes about as much sense as letting Oracle design your health insurance website.

          Actually, it's a multi-billion dollar, international boondoggle. NJ is not a special case. Pearson's headquarters are actually in London England. Pearson has offices in NJ, yes, but they have offices all over the USA and around the world. If your school district has any money left in it's budget, you can bet there's an army of Pearson reps doing everything they can get that money into John Fallon's coffers.

        • Not really a special case. This is happening all over. I'm in New York and our governor has all but declared war on teachers, blaming them for students failing (after pushing for high stakes tests which only 33% of kids passed), and threatening to close down public schools in favor of business-run charter schools. (Businesses which contribute to his campaign, of course.)

  • $100 million (Score:4, Interesting)

    by WaterDamage ( 719017 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @09:47AM (#49261141)
    Since when did it start to cost $100 million to administer a test??? The schools are out of freaking control and are gouging the life out of property taxes. It's time we end the fiasco and do 100% online virtual schools or fire the union, pension hoarding teachers and replace them with robots or TV's. In today's day and age, there is no reason why they can't record all the lectures into video format and play them back. As far as tests are concerned, every kid should get a different randomized test in front of a computer with a time limit. It's time we put our foot down and end the waste of tax dollars on old bureaucratic nonsense.
    • More like "Fire the school administrators who approve this crap." This one is not on the teachers.
      • Re:$100 million (Score:5, Informative)

        by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @11:29AM (#49261595) Homepage Journal

        More like "Fire the school administrators who approve this crap." This one is not on the teachers.

        Fire the school administrators anyway. People complain about the teacher's union, but teacher's salaries have barely kept up with inflation. The administration budget, meanwhile, has gone up by thousands or tens of thousands of percent all across the country. Why were we able to get by in the 70s and 80s with effectively a couple of secretaries and a principal, but now we need an entire separate building to house hundreds of administrators? Why is the student to administrator ratio less than the student to teacher ratio? It is needless red tape and needless expense that drives up property taxes and sales taxes and reduces the amount of money going toward education. Fire all of them and education will be improved.
        In my school district, in the 1970s, the band program received $15,000 a year, which helped to repair, replace and purchase instruments, music, and equipment. It is now $1,500 in actual dollars or $243 in inflation adjusted dollars. Meanwhile the administrative staff in my school district has gone from a size of perhaps 20 in the 1970s to several hundred now. The number of students in the district has remained approximately the same. The number of teachers has gone down so we can afford to pay all the administrators. Other services have disappeared as well. Bus service is only available if you live more than 1.5 miles from the school. School lunches have been cut back such that about once a week my kids come home and tell me that the cafeteria ran out of the meal and gave them a cold sandwich, yet charged full price.
        What administrative costs have done to our schools is a nationwide epidemic and needs to be reversed and quickly. The entire department lives only continue its own existence at the expense of our children's education.

        • My wife was a teacher. When we were expecting our second son, we did some budgeting and realized that, after daycare, after school care for our oldest son, and other expenses for her to continue teaching, we'd be PAYING money for her to keep her job. Her salary as a teacher was just too low. Not to mention that she had to deal with so much stress (from kids, parents, administrators) and worked so many long hours (begin before kids arrive to set up, stay late to grade tests, work on vacations to come up w

      • The teachers, by and large, do not like these tests because 1) they are high pressure and designed to make kids look like they are failing, 2) don't actually give any useful information about what a student knows, and 3) are tied to the teachers' job.

        So the students take the tests, are proclaimed to be failing (by the same companies who sell "fixes" for failing students coincidentally), and the blame gets tossed on the teacher who can then be fired because BIG-COMPANY-WHO-PROFITS-OFF-KIDS-FAILING said so.

      • I'd go one more level up. Fire the politicians who decide that they need to spend money on these garbage tests from Pearson to prove that our kids are failing so that Pearson can sell those politicians the solution.

    • Re:$100 million (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 15, 2015 @10:14AM (#49261237)

      Replacing them with robots and TVs is essentially what the common core, and before that, the myriad of state standards with standardized tests, aim to do. Gone are the days of planning particularly interesting lessons related to the actual kids in the room, having the flexibility to explore a particularly curious topic, etc. Most teachers are picking up their "Teachers Manuals," almost exclusively from giants like Pearson, and following numbered steps like its the magic recipe for teaching kids X topic.

      Whats missing? Actually learning how to LEARN. Which then shackles the majority of the kids to the awful system ignorant people have created for them.

      Its disgusting and citizens should be enraged by it but those most prone to get angry and speak out are far too busy on non-issues like the AP History curriculum not being patriotic enough.

      • by Shakrai ( 717556 )

        Gone are the days of planning particularly interesting lessons related to the actual kids in the room, having the flexibility to explore a particularly curious topic, etc. Most teachers are picking up their "Teachers Manuals," almost exclusively from giants like Pearson, and following numbered steps like its the magic recipe for teaching kids X topic.

        This. Ten million times this.

      • My wife and I are fighting back against just this in New York state. Here, the politicians have enacted EngageNY which is literally a script for teachers to read. It tells them not only what subjects to cover, but what to say, how to say it, what questions to ask the kids, what their responses should be, and how long (down to the minute) to spend on each section. Gone are the days of teachers using their brains/skills and tailoring lessons to the strengths of each kid. Now, they are required to read the

    • Re:$100 million (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Entrope ( 68843 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @10:25AM (#49261283) Homepage

      There are special needs kids who can't just click through a test on a computer screen -- blind children are an obvious example, and anyone with dyslexia needs special accommodations for the test to accurately measure skills beyond reading comprehension. Anything more complicated than a multiple-choice question -- for example, being able to get partial credit for showing work in a math or science problem, or any essay question -- tends to be very hard to grade by computer. Setting up computer-focused course materials takes extra work, and if that doesn't amortize over enough classes, it is wasted effort. How often does the course material need to be reworked, do to changes in the available hardware and software platforms? Does the computerized curriculum mean that schools in the inner city, rich suburbs, and rural areas all need to have their students follow the same curriculum, or is there any room to tailor to local needs and abilities?

      There certainly is a lot of budget that is wasted or abused in public schools, and bureaucracy and teacher's unions contribute much to that, but good solutions are not always as simple as they seem from the outside. If they were, we'd see more success stories of how a plucky reformer (with backing from the right school board members or whomever else) was able to turn a failing school around and deliver improved results for notably less money.

      • There certainly is a lot of budget that is wasted or abused in public schools, and bureaucracy and teacher's unions contribute much to that,...

        Hmmm. I'm with you on the bureaucracy part, but I don't think it's just about money. You can't have a good school system without well paid teachers, good facilities and materials, and an environment that helps kids want to learn.

        The town I live in is a "bedroom community" with little or no commercial tax base. Down the road a bit, is a wealthy town, with a lot of multi-million dollar mansions and a fairly good commercial tax base. Our town struggles to fund our schools, while the wealthy town has al

    • Re:$100 million (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Sunday March 15, 2015 @10:44AM (#49261385) Journal
      Here's a hint: those out-of-control teachers had no say in choosing the contractor for this test, nor in overpaying them; and they won't be seeing a cut of the administration costs(except in the weak sense that they'll be administered on school days, which are days teachers are paid to work).

      Perhaps more importantly, who do you think would end up selling you those 'robots or TV's', and how much do you think you'd end up paying for them, if Pearson is currently able to score 100 million for handing out a bunch of bubble sheets(with the staff already present in schools doing most of the actual handling and proctoring)?

      If you can't successfully order a prosaic little test without getting gouged by the contractor, that's typically a very compelling sign that you aren't ready to go shopping for more advanced gizmos.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Back when the Bush Administration started this business of increased standardized tests (also pushed in red states by neocon governors) the Congressional Budget Office said in a review that the primary effect of this would be to turn the testing industry from a multi million dollar industry to a multi billion dollar one. The effect on education was considered negligible.

      You want poor education? THIS is how you get poor education.

    • by ranton ( 36917 )

      Since when did it start to cost $100 million to administer a test???

      If we are going to spend this much on tests, I wish we could actually get some tests worth this kind of money. Create a test with 100,000 questions, but with only a hundred or so given to each individual student. For a school with 100 3rd graders, you would only give 10% of the total questions to this school. This way there could be no "teaching to the test" because the material on the test is too vast. And you don't have to worry about students cheating. Teachers would simply have to teach the way they use

    • The schools are out of freaking control and are gouging the life out of property taxes. It's time we end the fiasco and do 100% online virtual schools or fire the union, pension hoarding teachers

      "A noun, a verb, and teacher unions". You wingers and your one track minds...you think teachers want billions in education funds diverted to corporations like Pearson? Because that's what standardized tests are all about. That, and de-proffessionalizing education by forcing educators to teach to the test or lose

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Telling on you is not spying if you're standing on a soap box and shouting for all to hear.

  • Someone is making a fuck of a lot of money out of this. What a scam.
  • You might as well try to stop the tide from coming in. The case in question was a tweet after the test was taken; not during the test. If Pearson is so worried about the test integrity and question confidentiality then completely re-write all the questions so they are new, vet the instrument to be sure it measures what you claim it measures (which is a whole argument in and of itself), and administer a new test every time. Of course, that costs a lot of money so it's easier, and much cheaper, to raise a "Priority 1 Alert" (Danger Danger Will Robinson) and put the onus on the school and student.

    It's just another symptom of a badly broken, but financially lucrative, testing system out of control. It's not no child left behind but no teacher left standing.

  • This really isn't new at all. The American Chemical Society has monitored the web in general to keep people from posting versions of its standardized chemistry exams online. A couple of years ago, they busted a professor at a school in Florida for copying questions from the exam and posting those online. The school was fined a fairly large sum of money.
  • Although nobody should send fake tweets, I wonder what plans Pearson has for a scenario with a huge amount of chaff to investigate. For example: suppose many accounts sent tweets in a 1 hour period after school on your local area's testing day, all of the tweets had relevant text keywords and a picture reminiscent of a PARCC sample test question, and all of the pictures had various problems (blurriness, poor contrast, aimed at the corner of a page, etc.) that would make analysis expensive.
  • Pearson...

    So before long there will be accurate question / answer lists for this just there are for everything else Pearson tests.

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