American teenagers are tweeting the questions from nationwide standardized tests

No tweeting!
No tweeting!
Image: AP Photo/Ty Wright
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Revelations this week that American high school students were caught tweeting about questions on nationwide standardized tests have fueled fundamental concerns about the latest approach to measuring student achievement nationwide.

In Maryland, two 10th grade students tweeted essay questions that they had encountered on their Common Core standardized tests this month. Another student in New Jersey tweeted about a test question. And there were three instances of students sharing test questions in Ohio.

Since February, there have been at least 76 discoveries of students sharing test information on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, says Jesse Comart, a spokesman for Pearson, the testing company. It’s done in public forums, so students may not perceive it as cheating, he said, but it is: “It’s the equivalent of you standing on a street corner in New York and waving a test booklet around.”

This is a predicament that’s perhaps to be expected: Teenagers are used to sharing almost every experience on social media. But under the Common Core, a new system of curriculum and testing for US public schools that has been adopted in 46 states since 2010, there’s a greatly increased potential for social cheating to spread: As curriculum and testing are standardized nationwide, a leaked question or answer can also be shared nationwide.

Previously, tests were different in every state. But under Common Core, large groups of states have begun taking the same annual test for the first time this year. And since Common Core testing is mostly on computers, the testing period has to be spread out, because schools don’t have enough computers to offer all the tests at the same time.

For now, testing companies are playing a game of whack-a-mole with test information leaked on social media, monitoring as best they can with a test security company. Pearson reports incidents to the states and schools, who are responsible for taking disciplinary action.

Meanwhile, there are privacy concerns among parents and administrators about test companies monitoring student activity on social media. Caveon, the test security firm that Pearson uses, only looks at public pages and uses keyword searches, and does not follow individuals, says Steve Addicott, the company’s vice-president.

It remains to be seen whether such social cheating has had a major effect nationwide, said Derek Briggs, the chair of research and evaluation methodology at University of Colorado, Boulder. Test administrators will review the results of this year’s tests, he said, to figure out whether schools taking the test later performed better, and whether social media could have played a role.