Cheaters, beware: Test-givers are monitoring social media postings

How far should school testing systems go to ensure students aren’t cheating on state tests?

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the organization responsible for the state tests Washington students began taking this month, published a memo during last year’s field testing of the new assessments.

It urged educators to be vigilant about possible test “security breaches” on social media.

Last year’s memo suggested that kids be invited to join school Facebook pages or follow school Twitter accounts. It suggested asking students who join school Twitter accounts for their Twitter user names, and searching the news feeds and photo galleries of students with public Facebook pages for possible leaks.

Educators were asked to search for computer screen images showing test items, or photos taken inside testing rooms — including student testing selfies.

This year, SBAC has softened its guidance. But it hasn’t abandoned social media watchdog efforts.

The organization, based at UCLA, said it will have college student clerks and an SBAC communications specialist monitor social media Mondays through Fridays only, from 6 a.m.-5 p.m. They will be looking for hashtags such as #smarterbalanced or #commoncore that might clue them in about relevant postings.

If they spot test questions being posted by students on public accounts, they will contact the state education agency.

State officials will then be advised to contact the student’s school. Schools will get in touch with parents and students and deal with the situation according to their disciplinary rules, requesting that students remove test item postings.

SBAC deputy director Luci Willits said she’s too new to the organization to know whether this year’s strategy refinement came about as a result of complaints from last year’s field testers.

“That is not our policy now,” she said of the field test security memo.

Washington testing director Robin Munson said the state did not follow the SBAC memo urging social media monitoring during last year’s field test. And she said the state has been silent on the subject this year as well.

Tacoma Public Schools did not participate in last year’s field testing of the new tests. Patrick Cummings, director of research and evaluation for the district, said he has not asked Tacoma teachers to look at students’ social media accounts.

Rather, he said, “the big issue is smart phones.” He said that each year during state testing, a few students are usually caught texting. He said teachers are instructed to ask to check the phone to ensure the student hasn’t captured a picture of a test question.

Cummings said the district has never had a student test invalidated due to a security violation.

Test security is important to maintaining the integrity of the test, according to SBAC. If students post test items online, those items may have to be removed from future tests.

“If a student has an open social media account and is posting test questions, they are hurting other students by not allowing them to have an authentic testing experience,” Willits said.

She said that if teachers spot students using cellphones during a test, they should take away the device.

Willits said about 4 million students nationwide participated in last year’s field tests of the Smarter Balanced assessment. She said about 75 instances of security breaches were reported.

This year, she said, the number is lower. But testing is not yet complete for the year.

Munson also said there have been few, if any alerts, with the start of testing in Washington.

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