This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Social media monitoring by Pearson, the London-based company that runs PARCC testing in New Jersey, has tipped administrators off in some North Jersey school districts to students who might be cheating on the tests.
But it’s the monitoring itself that now has some parents worried.
The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessments, known as PARCC, are Common Core tests used in several states, including New York and Ohio.
In the past, parents resistant to the PARCC tests have expressed concerns about factors ranging from the time spent teaching to the test to the vulnerability of test data collected and stored online.
An email from Watchung Hills Regional High School District Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett to other superintendents was posted to the blog of investigative reporter Bob Braun (bobbraunsledger.com) late Friday, kicking off a firestorm among parents already wary of the PARCC tests.
Privacy concerns have motivated some parents, including Stephanie Hare, mother of a 5th grader and an 8th grader in the Moorestown School District, to opt their children out of tests.
"It’s the sharing of the information," said Hare, that bothers her. "It’s not staying within the school."
The New Jersey Department of Education contracts with PARCC, which hired Pearson as a test vendor. Pearson works with Tracx Inc. to monitor social media for confidential information from the tests.
Over the weekend, Tracx removed a study from its website featuring its social media monitoring work with Pearson.
Julia Rubin, a Princeton School District parent and co-founder of Save Our Schools New Jersey, a group that promotes opting out of PARCC tests, called the monitoring "creepy."
"No one gave us a piece of paper and said this is going to happen," said Rubin of the lack of transparency. "[Parents] were just completely excluded from the process."
Rubin said the Department of Education has not made clear what kinds of information students are or are not allowed to share about the tests, and with whom.
"You’re dealing with children as young as 8, and you’re dealing with a protracted testing context," said Rubin. Over the span of the test month, "it’s much more difficult to tell children not to discuss any aspect of that test."