April 2, 2015

Oklahoma Says Policy Monitoring Social Media Excludes Students

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Nate Robson

Nate Robson

EDUCATION WATCH BLOG
April 2, 2015

 

State education officials said Oklahoma’s new testing vendor “is absolutely not” tracking students on the Internet when monitoring social media in accordance with the state’s contract.

A provision in Measured Progress’ contract with Oklahoma calls for the New Hampshire-based education and testing vendor to monitor online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook for issues regarding testing. The company is supposed to report those issues to the state Department of Education.

Phil Bacharach, a spokesman for the department, said that process does not include monitoring students. Instead, Measured Progress may use key-word searches to see if test administrators are having problems.

“Even under the contract, anything gleaned from social media is solely to help fix problems,” he said. “There is no following of students’ social media postings.”

Test vendors monitoring students on social media became a national issue after Pearson, an education and testing company, flagged a New Jersey student’s comment on Twitter as a security violation in March

Pearson accused a student of posting a photo of a test question during an exam, according to an email the superintendent of Watchung Hills Regional High School District sent to other New Jersey superintendents.

The superintendent added the student wrote a post on Twitter about a test question after getting out of school for the day, and that the post did not include a photo.

The superintendent said it was “disturbing” that Pearson was monitoring students online.

The provision in Measured Progress’ contract with Oklahoma reads:

“Measured Progress will monitor social networks (e.g., Twitter, Facebook) for potential feedback or confusion around the program and report any findings back to the SDE (The State Department of Education.”

Measured Progress declined to answer questions, referring them instead to Oklahoma’s Department of Education.

Measured Progress was awarded two contracts in December worth a combined $48 million through fiscal year 2019 to handle Oklahoma’s testing.

The monitoring of students in New Jersey is not an isolated incident. Several testing companies have said they monitor social media for signs of cheating.

The issue has since ballooned into a national debate, pitting the need to prevent cheating against protecting students’ rights of privacy and free speech.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, also known as PARCC, subsequently told Pearson to stop using private student data provided by the state to cross-reference students’ posts on social media.

PARCC is a consortium of states that use the same test aligned to the Common Core academic standards.

Nate Robson can be reached at nrobson@oklahomawatch.org


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