When Test Manufacturers Spy on Students

Bob Braun recently reported that Pearson, the company that publishes and administers PARCC testing, has engaged in espionage in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Education. Apparently, Pearson is not satisfied with raking in millions of dollars in profits off the backs of our nation’s students.  Now they want to spy on our student’s Twitter accounts in order to squelch their constitutionally protected free speech rights and bully and intimidate minors who dare to express an opinion about the standardized tests they are subjected to in school.  Probably the most disturbing element of this story is that an official of the department of education willingly accepted Pearson’s allegations of students’ Twitter activity and even asked one school district to discipline students who supposedly said something inappropriate about the PARCC tests. 

Pardon me?

Pearson is working with the state in issues of student discipline?  Test security is cited as the reason for Pearson’s spying and the New Jersey Department of Education’s call for sanctions.  According to Braun:

“The unnamed state education department employee contended a student took a picture of a test item and tweeted it. That was not true. It turned out the student had posted–at 3:18 pm, well after testing was over–a tweet about one of the items with no picture. Jewett [superintendent of the school district at the center of the Pearson spying controversy] does not say the student revealed a question. There is no evidence of any attempt at cheating.”

This treatment of standardized tests as if they are state secrets is disturbing to say the least.  But to de facto “criminalize” children who express their opinions about the content of the tests goes too far. What’s next?  Will their parents (since these children are minors) be sued or fined?  Where does the power of Pearson begin and end? 

Of course, Pearson is concerned about the growing opt-out movement. Their profits are directly linked to the number of students who take their tests.  However, by engaging in this type of heavy-handed and over-reaching corporate espionage, Pearson is arming parents and students with yet another valid reason to opt-out of their tests.  According to Braun, “…passing or failing the test has no consequence for the students who take it. PARCC does not serve as a graduation test. It can, however, be used in the evaluation of teachers.”  So if students or their parents do not want Pearson spying on their social media accounts, the best way to ensure privacy is to not even take the test.  Opt-out.  Stop feeding the Pearson testing/data mongering machine.

The ramifications of Pearson’s spying activities are alarming.  Have these student been “flagged” by Pearson and the state?  Have they placed these students on a “no fly” list, making them vulnerable to further monitoring and scrutiny?  How far is the reach of Pearson and other corporations in the private lives of our students?  Is Pearson poised to collude with the National Security Administration in monitoring the lives of public school students?  What’s next?  Will student responses on standardized tests be used to determine which students are likely to become radicalized?  At one time in our history this would have been considered bad science fiction writing.  But, in truth, when huge corporations collude with state and federal governments science fiction can become a frightening reality.

Opting out has now become more than just a protest against Draconian high stakes tests that sap the educational life out of the classroom.  Opting out has now become perhaps the most effective way for our democratic society to fight the intrusive authoritarian Orwellian corporate state that now violates a person’s individual liberty.  As I point out in The Origins of the Common Core:  How the Free Market Became Public Education Policy,  we now live in a state of corporate governmental mutualism that is a serious threat to the very foundation of our republic — a republic based on democratic principles!