TRENTON - The New Jersey Education Department says it will do a review to make sure students' privacy is not compromised by a standardized testing firm that is monitoring social media for security breaches.
Department lawyer Patricia Morgan made the announcement Thursday at a legislative hearing examining the monitoring.
Education officials say monitoring is a common practice to make sure test contents are not getting out. But it drew some objections last week when a North Jersey student was discovered tweeting about the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC), the new standardized test being given to students in New Jersey and several other states this month.
A blogger published an e-mail by Watchung Hills Regional High School District Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett stating that her district had been contacted by the department about the tweet.
PARCC critics and others have accused Pearson, the major testing vendor behind the test, of spying on students.
The superintendent's e-mail indicated that the district was told that Pearson was monitoring social media for test security breaches during PARCC's administration. The superintendent wrote that she found that "a bit disturbing" and predicted that the monitoring would lead to more refusals by parents to let children take the test.
In a memo on the district website, Jewett said she did not release the e-mail but confirmed its authenticity.
Pearson was invited to Thursday's hearing but did not send a representative. The department said its contract with Pearson allows monitoring of only public Internet sites. Officials said the policy requires Pearson to contact the department about any possible breaches of information, and then the department approaches local districts.
Morgan noted six to 12 possible incidents in the state this year, some identified by districts themselves.
In Watchung Hills, there were three separate test breaches, department spokesman Michael Yaple said before the hearing. One was a tweet about the content of a test question, and the other two were photos of the test.
In past years, Yaple said, students have been found to use cellphone cameras to post test questions. Test security measures to identify breaches have been used in New Jersey and other states as well, he said.
Assembly Education Committee Chairman Patrick Diegnan (D., Middlesex) said he planned to introduce legislation that would regulate the monitoring of students' social media postings.
"I just find this to be unacceptable," Diegnan said at a hearing packed with people who object to the PARCC exam.