Assembly Education Committee Takes Testimony on PARCC, Opt Out & Test Monitoring
The Assembly Education Committee heard from representatives of the New Jersey Department of Education and NCS Pearson, Inc. on recent media reports in regard to monitoring of social media activity of New Jersey students related to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments. The Committee also approved several pieces of legislation related to the new assessment system, including a bill that requires districts to provide ‘educationally appropriate alternative activities’ to students who have ‘opted out’ or refused to participate in the test administration, as well as a bill that would establish a new taskforce to examine the new assessment system.
Recent media reports indicate that Caveon Test Security, a Utah based subcontractor of Pearson, has been monitoring the internet for potential test security breaches during the inaugural test administration. That monitoring included a review of messages PARCC that students post to their public social media accounts, which anyone can see online. Testing experts say the practice is not new or uncommon in the testing world — a similar web crawl is used to protect the SATs and ACTs.
The state, PARCC, Pearson and Caveon have all defended the measure, which the state says had been done in years past to protect prior standardized tests. Revealing a test question or topic online could give other students an unfair advantage and invalidate test results, Department officials indicated in a broadcast memo to the field.
The security method was revealed after email sent by Watchung Hills Regional High School District Superintendent Elizabeth Jewett was leaked online. In the email, Jewett warned other superintendents that the Department of Education had contacted her about the PARCC-related tweet.
According to testimony Patricia Morgan, chief legal and external affairs officer for the Department of Education today, so far the state has been alerted to "a half dozen, maybe a dozen," possible test breaches, which could include photos of test questions.
A breach does not have to be a test question, though, and could include a reference to test topic, Morgan said.
Some of those reported breaches came from Caveon but others came from other sources, like districts or schools, Morgan also indicated.
Once informed of a potential breach, the state then contacts local districts to determine whether the material posted online jeopardizes test security, Morgan said. If it is deemed a security breach, the school will then contact the student and the school could impose discipline, Morgan said.
Morgan did not say how Caveon identifies students if the name used for their social media account is not their real name.
"If there is no way for us to trace back specific comments, then we are at a dead end," she said. "Pearson and PARCC will have to work with the social media website to address whether or not there was an intellectual property breach."
The Committee also took a vote on legislation, A-4165 (Diegnan), that had be heard for discussion only at last month’s Assembly Education hearing. That bill, allows parent or guardian to exclude student from administration of certain assessments, requiring the Department of Education to provide guidance documents to districts on appropriate educationally appropriate activities that a district can entertain. The committee released the legislation with several amendments that allow districts to permit students to either participate in self-guided reading activities or, if attend class, if the test administration is occurring while existing classes are being held. NJPSA has concerns with the legislation as it could jeopardize State and local district access to federal funds.
The Committee also approved legislation, A-4268 (Andrzejczak / Diegnan / Johnson) establishing a Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers Task Force that would be tasked with evaluating the implementation of the new assessment system. NJPSA has a seat on the Taskforce and supports the legislation.
Also approved were two measures related to the core curriculum content standards and start times for school students:
- A-3713 / S-2367 (Vainieri Huttle / Sumter / Mukherji / Codey / Allen) requires the review of Core Curriculum Content Standards to ensure that substance abuse instruction provided to public school students incorporates the most recent evidence-based standards and practices. NJPSA supports the legislation
- A-3845 / S-2484 (Jasey / Benson / Vainieri Huttle / Codey / Turner) requires DOE to conduct study on options and benefits of instituting later school start time in middle school and high school. NJPSA is monitoring this legislation.
Both bills were approved by the Senate earlier this year.