One lawyer defends the practice of monitoring students on social media sites after high-stakes testing

parcc-twitterA storm of criticism recently rained down on test publisher Pearson Education after the revelation that it regularly monitors social-media sites for public posts that contain secure content from standardized tests it publishes.

When it finds material from its Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Common Core tests, Pearson notifies state education officials. They attempt to identify the individuals who posted the material. If students are responsible, they are instructed to remove the posts. Anti-testing activists, already knee-deep in their fight to reduce reliance on standardized tests to measure academic and teacher performance, have expressed outrage about Pearson’s monitoring, which they call “spying on kids.”

PARCC tests are administered over a period of weeks across New Jersey, as well as in 10 other states and Washington, D.C. It is especially important to monitor social media for exam content when the same test is administered over a period of days or weeks or across time zones. Students who see exam content before they take the test obviously have an unfair advantage over others, and responses to such questions are not a valid measure of their knowledge. If a sufficient number of questions are exposed, test results are stripped of fairness and validity and are rendered meaningless.

It is a complete distortion of the issue to cast Web monitoring as a student privacy issue. The phrase spying on kids may have emotional appeal, but it improperly suggests that those posting exam content online deserve privacy protection. To the contrary, kids post on social media to instantaneously share their thoughts and content with the entire world. Therefore, no student’s privacy is at risk as a result of monitoring social media. “Student privacy” is a smokescreen for improper conduct that not only invalidates test results but also violates copyright law.

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