Tags: Schools | Spying on Students | Common Core

Companies Spying on Students Online for Common Core Leaks

By    |   Saturday, 21 Mar 2015 07:00 PM

School districts are hiring private companies to monitor students online to make sure they don't use the Internet to leak details about test questions contained on new Common Core or other standardized tests, or to learn if they are engaging risky online behavior.

The surveillance services monitor all online activity, including individual keystrokes and then send principals text messages if students type suspicious phrases or go to certain websites, reports Politico.

When news about the surveillance programs created by Caveon, a test security company that protects the Common Core exams developed by Pearson, protests broke out, including from The American Federation of Teachers, who circulated a petition that demanded Pearson "stop spying on our kids," according to The New York Times.

Pearson denies it spies on students, and states using the company's new PARCC examination asked the company to stop cross-checking names of students they suspect of making inappropriate posts.

However, state officials are defending the practice.

"The accounts Pearson is looking at are, by definition, public accounts with no expectations of privacy," said Jacqueline Reis, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

There are plenty of other private companies monitoring student activities, the states of California, Illinois, Michigan, and Utah are taking action to ban colleges or schools from demanding students turn over their usernames and passwords, and at least five other states are considering similar laws.

However, even if those laws do pass, most students post publicly on Twitter, Facebook and other sites, and companies are able to follow them.

And while parents are protesting against digital surveillance measures that are triggered when students use online textbooks, surveillance firms actually offer data that principals, colleges and more are interested in following.

In addition to scanning the internet for students who are sharing information about Common Core testing, the surveillance companies also scan student posts to flag social behaviors, like bullying or depression.

In addition, they scan student posts for items that could embarrass the school or student, and will even tattle when students plan to get together and do something the administrations frown upon.

Schools can also have keystrokes tracked and logged, if the student is using a school-owned computer or tablet from any location, giving principals text alerts that trigger on certain words or even if they visit websites about destructive behaviors, such as anorexia. The reports can also show the students who spend hours hanging out on Facebook.

Still more programs are out there that allow the emails and messages sent on school computers to be tracked and alert school officials or law enforcement agencies when they deem necessary.

Some services even work by cross-referencing photos and friend networks to deduce students' identities on Twitter and other sites where they don't have to offer their real names.

While some schools warn students they are being watched, others don't, and the service increases during standardized test time.

Other test developers, like ETS and ACT, told Politico they also hire companies to scan the web for leaks about their tests.

Geo Listening CEO Chris Frydrych defends his service, saying it alerts schools when students share too much personal information online or if they seem like they are having problems.

"Our philosophy is, if someone in China can type in your child’s user name and see what they’re posting publicly on social media, shouldn’t the people who are the trusted adults in a child’s life see that information?" Frydrych said.

But education officials like Barbara-Jane Paris, past president of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said such surveillance "upsets students and stakeholders because they feel like they’re being spied on."

But there are some administrators, like Jason Markey, the principal at East Leyden High School in Franklin Park, Ill., who says he'll never follow a student Twitter account, even though hundreds of students follow his.

"They need to know there is a separation," Markey told Politico. "Just because there are [surveillance] tools out there doesn’t mean that I have to look closer at what they’re doing online. I want to give them their space."

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School districts are hiring private companies to monitor students online to make sure they don't use the Internet to leak details about test questions contained on new Common Core or other standardized tests, or to learn if they are engaging risky online behavior.
Schools, Spying on Students, Common Core
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2015-00-21
Saturday, 21 Mar 2015 07:00 PM
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