TPERN Requests TEA Clarify Pearson Monitoring of Students’ Social Media


Amidst numerous reports of Pearson Education monitoring the internet and social media postings of students taking assessments in the northeastern United States, TPERN has requested that Commissioner Williams disclose to Texas parents the extent to which Pearson is contracted to monitor the social media postings of Texas students.  A copy of our letter is below:

March 18, 2015

Dear Commissioner Williams:

Recent news items from New Jersey and Maryland have confirmed that Pearson Education engages in active monitoring of social media accounts of students who take Pearson created standardized assessments.(Link).  Pearson Education proudly asserts the importance of its review of the social media posts of minors in the name of test security and protection of intellectual property rights. (Link).  At the same time, however, it appears to have prevailed upon its software vendor to remove any reference to their work together from the vendor’s website. (Link).  This dissonance between its public stance and private actions is concerning.  It is unclear to what extent Pearson engages in social media monitoring of children in Texas.  However, from its public statements in regard to New Jersey and Maryland, there seems to be little doubt that Pearson does or intends to monitor Texas students online social media postings.

In that regard, the Texas Parents’ Educational Rights Network respectfully requests that the Commissioner or his designee answer the following questions for Texas parents:

(1) To what extent does Pearson Education monitor the social media postings of Texas students?  Is social media monitoring a part of the Pearson contract?  If so, how much do Texas taxpayers pay Pearson to review the internet postings of Texas students?

(2) What restrictions are placed on Pearson Education’s use of data derived from social media monitoring of Texas students, both as to data that may trigger further action in the name of test security, but also data that does not raise any alerts, but is nonetheless captured and reviewed by Pearson?  In what document may those restrictions, if any, be found?

(3) What notice, if any, is provided to Texas parents and students that their social media postings may be monitored by Pearson or the TEA?  In what documents may any such notices be found?

(4) What safeguards does Pearson Education have in place to assure that its staff that reviews social media postings of minors does not misuse this information for private and/or improper purposes?  There is no doubt that contact via social media is a primary grooming tool for child predators.  How does Pearson screen its employees to assure that those employees permitted to review the social media posting of children are not risks to child safety?  Does Pearson’s monitoring software separate content from identity, such that no one person can obtain information that might enable this information to be used privately for threatening or grooming purposes?  What written policies does Pearson have in place regarding private usage of this information by its employees and how are those policies enforced?

It is a sad truth of our modern age that technology has enabled child predators to approach and groom victims in relative anonymity.  It is a further truth that predators gravitate to work which enables them contact with potential victims.  Any business which engages in the monitoring of social media of minors must be aware of these risks and proactively address them.  Texas parents deserve to know what steps Pearson has taken to assure the safety of Texas students whose internet activity is being actively monitored.

With the first STAAR administrations of 2015 forthcoming, your timely response to this inquiry would be appreciated.

Sincerely,

R. Scott Placek
Chairman
Texas Parents’ Educational Rights Network

Of particular interest to TPERN is what safeguards are in place to assure that no Pearson employee misuses the data obtained to solicit or otherwise approach a minor student.  This risk is inherent in any position that provides regular access to children or their personal information.  Discussion of child protection has been sadly missing from the debate of Pearson’s monitoring of minors on social media.  We will update you with any response received.

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