#PearsonIsWatching: Think before you tweet about tests

Cheating on exams used to be so easily detectable — a bit of ink on a student’s palm or a copy of a test crumpled on the floor. Like with most aspects of life, technology has complicated the act of cheating. Yet, what’s the difference between a tweet complaining about an exam and a suspect tweet containing valuable information about a test question?

Students and exam publishers disagree about whether or not companies should hire test-security officials to scan websites like Facebook and Twitter for signs of test security breach.

Publishers for exams like the SAT, ACT and GRE argue that perusing social media for signs of suspicious content is an essential part of test security.

“Sharing images of test questions on social media is the 2015 equivalent of a student copying test items and handing them out,” David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), told the Washington Post. Without monitoring social media for signs of test-bank fraud, publishers aren’t being equally fair to all students.

This is true — monitoring is essential to maintaining the integrity of an exam. But at what point does it cross over into an issue of privacy violation? 

Students and parents question whether being disciplined for discussing a mandatory test is invasive of privacy rights, according to the Washington Post. The hashtag #pearsoniswatching trended recently, propelling new dialogue about free speech and the power of for-profit test publishers.

Pearson, a textbook company, has responded to the hashtag by welcoming new discourse. 

“We welcome debate and a variety of opinions. But when test questions or elements are posted publicly to the Internet, we are obligated to alert PARCC and our state customers,” a Pearson representative told the Washington Post this week.

Even so, students don’t gain much from cheating. Even if test security officials don’t find your photo of that really baffling SAT question that you used to cheat, the personal consequences will punish you enough. If you earn a score you didn’t deserve on a standardized test, you’ll falter later in college by enrolling somewhere you don’t rightfully belong.

Creating a disclaimer statement is the simplest way to ease tensions between students and exam publishers about test security and monitoring. If proctors divulged some catch-all statement to students before taking an exam, it could prevent students from posting material online later for other students to cheat from.

By forming this disclaimer, we can weed out the innocent students. A great deal of the “cheating” that goes on involving social media and standardized testing is merely a matter of misunderstanding. Students don’t realize that they can’t discuss elements of a question or talk about a poem from their SAT. What counts as cheating is not always intuitive — this is especially true in a culture where the Internet pervades every aspect of education, making it hard to keep up.

Such a statement would force students to think about the ramifications of their tweets — a positive externality that serves both sides of the debate.

So, think before you tweet about the questions on the LSAT or GRE this spring. While test monitoring may seem invasive, it’s someone’s job. You can decide whether your test score gets thrown out or not.