News & Politics

Testing Company Pearson Uses Social Media to Spy on Students

The company claims it is contractually obligated to do so.

Across the country, many students are taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, which was put together by a group of states with assistance from the testing company Pearson. Twelve states and the District of Columbia currently use these tests, although many students are choosing to opt out over concerns that the tests are not a good use of school time.

News broke this week that Pearson is actively spying on the social media feeds of students, monitoring their posts related to the tests. In a statement posted on its website, Pearson claimed it is contractually obligated to do so in order to maintain the integrity of the test (for example, to prevent cheating).

In response to the revelations, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) demanded an immediate halt to the Pearson monitoring and asked the company to point to the contractual language.

“It’s one thing to protect intellectual property, but this raises far too many questions,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten. “How is Pearson monitoring students? What information about students does Pearson have, where did it get it, and what will it keep? Is Pearson reviewing everything students post? What protections are there for student privacy?”

The spying first came to light when Pearson contacted New Jersey officials about possible cheating on a PARCC test after a student posted a Twitter message containing a photo related to the exam. But after investigating the incident, a New Jersey superintendent concluded that it was posted after the test and that no details about the exam were disclosed, raising questions about why Pearson is actually monitoring social media posts about its controversial test.

Zaid Jilani is an AlterNet staff writer. Follow @zaidjilani on Twitter.

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