Commentary

Pearson Monitored Students' Social Media To Detect Cheating

Education giant Pearson, the world’s largest publisher of textbooks, has been routinely monitoring the social media activity of students taking its tests to detect cheating, the company disclosed this week. The company has agreed to suspend the monitoring of students on social media at the request of a number of U.S. states that use its tests.

Instead, It is leaving this surveillance to the states themselves.

The admission followed a controversy in New Jersey. The state Department of Education revealed the monitoring activity when it informed the parent of a student that Pearson had alerted it to a problematic tweet by their child.

The parent, in turn, complained to regional high school district superintendent Elizabeth Jewett, who then wrote an open letter to colleagues via email, alerting them to what she termed this “disturbing” activity.

Pearson has hired a firm specializing in ensuring test security, Caveon, to do the monitoring. Caveon matched social media profiles to the roster of students taking Pearson’s tests, presumably using all kinds of fancy analytical tools to narrow the geographic scope to specific school districts and ensure they are monitoring the right people.

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Pressed for an explanation, Pearson defended the practice by pointing out that the company is “contractually required by states to monitor public conversations on social media to ensure that no assessment information (text, photos, etc) that is secure and not public is improperly disclosed.” In other words, it was only doing its job, and if you’re looking for Big Brother in this case, go look at the state DOEs.

The controversy was aggravated by another factor, as New Jersey had recently adopted a new statewide system for electronic testing called the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers, which many students and parents have objected to for various reasons.

The Pearson brouhaha is interesting for any number of reasons -- but the one that springs out at me is the fact that teachers and school administrators apparently knew nothing about it, judging by superintendent Jewett’s reaction described above.

As in most cases of intrusive surveillance, it’s a lot easier to get away with when the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

1 comment about "Pearson Monitored Students' Social Media To Detect Cheating".
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  1. Tara Crow from Resumarea, August 11, 2015 at 5:42 p.m.

    Now that's a little extreme. Students need some space. No need to turn schools into prisons where students are constantly supervises. This will never have a positive impact. If they want to cheat this attitude will only motivate them to look for new ways of cheating. It's enough that my kids use <a href="http://essaylab.co.uk/">EssayLab</a> to write essays. I do not mind since teachers assign too many essays anyway. However, developing skills and advancing knowledge is essential. This is not about grades so cheating will hurt you long term. This is what we should teach our kids.

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