Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Pearson spies on children

Bob Braun who wrote for the Star-Ledger for nearly 50 years and who served as its education editor for nearly 30 years writes a blog called Bob Braun`s Ledger.

He recently discovered that Pearson, the multinational testing and publishing company based in London, has been spying on the social media posts of students who are undergoing school PARCC assessments in New Jersey. He reveals that the state education department is cooperating with this spying because it has asked at least one school district to discipline students who may have said something inappropriate about the PARCC tests on social media.

The superintendent of one school district sent an email expressing her concern about the unauthorised spying on students. Thousands of parents have kept their children away from the PARCC tests because of anxiety that Pearson might abuse its access to student data. The superintendent believes that the revelations about the spying are going to make the situation worse.

It was asserted by an unnamed employee that a student took a picture of a test item and tweeted it. Bob Braun insists that this was not true. There was no picture and the tweet was done well after the testing was over. There was no evidence of any attempt to cheat.
The school superintendent also expressed concern about "the fact that the DOE wanted us to also issue discipline to the student." Clearly, if  Pearson insists on claiming test security as a justification for its spying on young people, that reasoning is vitiated by its cooperation with the state education department in trying to punish students who are merely expressing their First Amendment right to comment on the tests.

The Washington Post eventually got Pearson to comment on the matter:
"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."

Bob Braun learned that at least one student was suspended. He says:  "That one or more students may have been suspended for treating PARCC like the bad joke it has become shows how sad–and maybe scary–this cooperation between government and the private testing industry has become."

In his latest blog post he informs us that:
The chief testing officer for the New Jersey education department is blaming others–particularly parents and educators–for the uproar about a private company’s monitoring of the social media accounts of children taking state, standardized tests known as PARCC...
For example, it sounds so reasonable that test security is nothing new, but, if so, why weren’t parents–or the public generally–informed that the state would be hiring cyber-spies to ensure no one was leaking information about the test? ...
The revelation about the cyber-monitoring went viral–no one disputes that–and so how does Erlichson explain that? Teachers and parents are just dumb about the internet? Come on–parents throughout the United States and the world were taken aback by the disclosures of what happened at the Watchung Hills Regional High School district last week. They were shocked...
Here’s another question–one your contractors won’t answer either: How does one of your cyber-vigilantes connect a Tweet to a specific student and to a specific school with such pinpoint accuracy that your office can call a testing coordinator at 10 pm and demand something be done?
As you must know, many Twitter accounts use pseudonyms. How do your spies get behind the fake handle to learn the identity of the person who sent the Tweet–or the Facebook posting? How do you learn the IP addresses of the tweets so the sender can be tracked down?

The Assembly Education Committee has scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Thursday on the spying revelations. State Education Commissioner David Hespe and representatives from Pearson have been asked to testify, but it is not yet known who will show up. 

Here is something else the world needs to know

Pearson will be developing the Framework for PISA 2018. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is recognised as the benchmark for assessing education systems worldwide.

We have been assured by the Scottish Government that Scotland will be taking part.

See Transformational Education through Technology 

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