Social media sites monitored to detect test leaks

Cameron Morelli, Editor-in-Chief

With social media constantly at the fingertips of students, more and more testing companies have taken precautions to prevent students from leaking test questions on social media sites.

Although screening social media sites for pictures and posts of test questions or answers could prevent cheating and protect the integrity of testing, many students, parents and school officials believe that this monitoring of students’ accounts is an invasion of privacy.

This type of monitoring is often used to protect the security of major college entrance exams such as the SAT and ACT.  Now that students around the nation will be assessed through Common Core tests on the computer over a wide time span in many different states, checking social media sites for standardized testing leaks may be vital to ensure valid results of Common Core testing.

“It’s a very, very long testing window, which means those questions are being exposed for a long time,” Gregory Cizek, a testing expert at the University of North Carolina said in an article published by the “Washington Post.”

Debate over this issue was triggered when parents, students, teachers and school officials accused the textbook and testing company Pearson of spying on students’ social media accounts when the company informed the New Jersey Department of Education that a student posted a question from the state’s tenth grade English language exam on Twitter.

Some students agree that testing companies having access to students’ social media accounts to screen for disclosed test questions is an invasion of privacy and defeats the purpose of social media sites being a place where teens are free to share whatever they wish.

“What we post is what we want,” junior Michelle Nguyen said. “Some people have theirs on private and that’s the reason why we want it on private – so not everybody sees what we’re posting about.”

Other students say that since students discuss test material on social media after they are specifically instructed not to, it is acceptable for testing companies to monitor social media sites.

“If you can’t talk about the answers, but you do so on social media, then it’s fine for [testing companies] to monitor [social media] because you’re already breaking the rules,” senior Thanh Le said.

To screen for leaked test questions, test-security contractors use a search tool that indicates keywords used in the test questions. Pearson claims that only public social media sites – such as Twitter, Instagram and electronic bulletin boards – are monitored for disclosed test material.  When test material is indicated in a post, it is deleted and the company notifies the state education agency; local schools determine whether or not a punishment is authorized for the post.

“I think it is an invasion of privacy because the social media that the students are using are their own personal accounts,” senior Golden Nguyen said.  “I do understand that there are certain contracts that come with social media that most people aren’t informed of.”

Other students acknowledge that social media sites are public mediums and that students should be responsible for what they post.

“It’s not an invasion of privacy because what you put on the internet is out there for everybody,” Khan said.

Although this method for ensuring test security may be controversial, it has proven to be quite effective for Pearson.  Through monitoring of social media sites, the company identified 72 test leaks in six different states over the course of about a month after the tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers were released.

Many students who discuss exams on social media do so without dishonest intentions of cheating or disclosing answers to other students.  Some use social media to simply discuss their recent performance on the exam with their peers or even make jokes about passages used or questions asked on the exam.

“I think that most of the time when students use social media to exploit testing material it’s in more of a joking manner than a serious manner,” Nguyen said. “[Students] will talk about how unrealistic the questions are, not necessarily what the question pertained or what the answers were.”