New furor over N.J. tests as student privacy concerns raised

By Hannan Adely, Staff Writer, The Record

The security of the state’s standardized tests is clashing with parents’ privacy concerns in the latest battle over the new exams.

Critics accused Pearson testing company of “spying” after it alerted the state Department of Education that a student leaked a test question on Twitter. Pearson said it was protecting test integrity and fairness, and an assistant commissioner of the state Education Department wrote a letter to school officials Tuesday strongly defending the practice, saying that Pearson is tracking content of posts not the students’ accounts.

Pearson’s reporting of the breach has generated a firestorm that’s tied to the larger controversy that has seen parents refusing to let their children take the tests amid growing concerns about student data privacy and overstressed children.

In the latest controversy, parents have flooded social media with complaints about the “spying” incident, news outlets have covered it and the chairman of the state Assembly Education Committee called for the company and the state education commissioner to explain their actions at a hearing Thursday.

“I find the accounts as reported very disturbing,” said Assemblyman Patrick Diegnan Jr., D-Middlesex, who asked state Education Commissioner David Hespe and Pearson to attend the 10 a.m. hearing. “This type of event has a chilling effect on parents and kids.”

The incident exploded on social media after it was reported Friday by education blogger Bob Braun, a former reporter for The Star-Ledger. Braun shared an email that Elizabeth Jewett, superintendent of the Watchung Hills Regional High School District, had sent to a group of superintendents. Jewett wrote that the Department of Education contacted the school to report a student’s tweet, which she found “a bit disturbing.”