PARCC Testing and Social Media Spying

A tempest in a social media teapot is brewing this week around PARCC testing of New Jersey students and social media actions by those students. The issue highlights one very real way that teens, parents and the media (who should know better) misunderstand some core ideas around online activity and privacy.

The PARCC tests (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) are being conducted in New Jersey and a number of other states this month. They are one of a new breed of standardized tests born of the Common Core movement, and have been wildly unpopular, particularly among parents.

The story at hand is this: Someone leaked an email from one New Jersey superintendent to others informing them that Pearson, the company who designed and manages the PARCC tests, had detected that one student had tweeted specifics about the test. Pearson referred the incident to the New Jersey Department of Education, who in turn contacted the school district to discipline the student. Cue the outraged headlines:

Daily Kos 3/14/2015
Asbury Park Press 3/14/2015


And lots of tweets and Facebook posts like this one:

By this logic, I just spied on Mary Hufford above. That is obviously incorrect.

Here’s the thing: If you post something publicly online, it is public – no different than saying it on TV or printing it in a newspaper. If parents don’t like Pearson, the NJ DOE or anyone else reading their kids’ tweets, their child can set his account to private. Pearson can’t read your child’s text messages, after all. It’s that simple.

A twitter search for the term #PARCC yields thousand of results. Your child’s tweet about a test may be a needle in a haystack, but your only real privacy defense is to not post it at all.

Anybody is free to read and interact with public social media posts. If such a post violates a school code of conduct or established testing rules, one can expect that if discovered, the person posting will be dealt with. That is not spying.



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