NJ, Pearson, and PARCC: Lies or ineptitude?

BLOGPEARSONTWEETA legal analyst for the New Jersey education department told a legislative committee the other day that Pearson, the multi-billion dollar British corporation that produces the PARCC tests,  could protect its “intellectual property” rights in the test by searching out what students are posting about the test on social media sites. The only problem with what Patrician Morgan said was this: Pearson doesn’t own the tests or the test questions.

A few days earlier, The New York Times blog “Bits” reported that PARCC–a coalition of a dozen states that hired Pearson to develop the tests–had ordered Pearson to stop using a database of student information to search out the students. There is a problem with that, too–few, if any, people outside the PARCC coalition even knew Pearson, a private company, had access to such a database.

Someone is lying. Or obfuscating. And the pity is that, given how feckless the New Jersey Assembly Education Committee was the other day in drawing out information from the education department, most parents are left not knowing what was going on.

State Education Commissioner David Hespe, in a move of breathtaking cowardice, refused to show up to answer the committee’s questions. He had been asked to come to the meeting days before but somehow could not clear his calendar in time to address the uproar over the revelations in this site that Pearson was spying on the social media postings of New Jersey children. Pearson also didn’t show up. To plead a previous engagement was, pure and simple, a lie.

Instead, he sent a young lawyer, Patricia Morgan, who read from a script and then offered  to answer questions, although it was clear she knew very little about the subject. That, too, was an egregious act of contempt for the legislators and concerned parents throughout New Jersey.

Morgan did spend some time talking about the intellectual property rights of Pearson, the developer of the test. “It could be viewed as intellectual property and they do have the ability to protect their intellectual property,” she said.

The legislators didn’t pursue what she said and she refused to answer questions from the press. Although Michael Yaple, the press spokesman for the department, stood outside and handed his business cards out to reporters, he wouldn’t explain what she meant. Nor would he the following day.

Because there is a problem here: Pearson doesn’t own the questions. It doesn’t have intellectual property rights in the text of the tests. Pearson itself posted a statement saying:

“Pearson is the lead testing contractor for PARCC. We were successful in winning a multi-year bid to develop and administer the PARCC tests to students in a group of states. That group of states sets all policy for PARCC, and owns all aspects of the program – including the actual test questions. “(Emphasis added).

PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is a coalition of 12 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to New Jersey, the members are Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, and Rhode Island. That coalition hired Pearson to come up with a test and the exam has become known as the PARCC test.

So why did Morgan talk about Pearson’s right to seek redress for violations of intellectual property rights? The department isn’t saying–and the legislators apparently don’t care.

Just as they apparently don’t care about the use of a student data-base New Jersey  provided to Pearson to help it track down students who might be posting about the PARCC test. Nowhere in her testimony did Morgan talk about a data-base of student information made available to Pearson.

Assemblyman Ralph  Caputo came close to a potentially explosive issue when he asked about “PowerSchool,” a student data base program used by many districts–and owned and operated by Pearson. The information in it can be linked to NJSMART, a state database containing information about every student and teacher in New Jersey. Caputo asked Morgan directly whether Pearson operated PowerSchool:

“I am unable to confirm that but I will check on it,” she said.

It was, of course, absurd–and unacceptable–for Hespe not to appear and to send in his place someone who could not answer questions. Nothing was more important to the commissioner than this issue. It was a betrayal of the public trust.

In the same way spying on children is a betrayal of the public trust.

 

 

Morgan knew little about PowerSchool. Didn’t even know it was a Pearson operation.

 

 

 

25 comments

  1. Jean E Dvorak

    The plot thickens.

    There is just so much wrong here. This is the problem in bringing big business into public education. Once the reins are handed over to the profit seekers, ethics go out the window. When is someone going to ask the hard questions?

    Keep on digging, Bob, sooner or later someone in power is going to listen.

    • Heidi Brown

      Bob can’t do it all by himself. We ALL need to contact our local legislators. With each breaking post this week, I’ve phone called and emailed my legislators. I’ve also scheduled face to face meetings for this week. We have to show our representatives that we are coming in droves, to fight to protect our children and our tax payer funded investment in creating a generation of thoughtful, ethical citizens.

  2. Andy Mitchell

    I know Pearson runs PowerSchool, and I’m just a peon teacher from NY whose district uses Infinite Campus.

    Thing is, I believe Ms. Morgan really didn’t know.

    If I ever get caught by #peepingpearson or NYSED doing something they don’t like, I’ll send along my cat to testify on my behalf.

    It would make as much sense as what happened in New Jersey.

    • Heidi Brown

      Andy, I believe you are right. I believe she didn’t know. In fact, I believe many don’t know. Just look at the last hearing Hespe attended. He had to punt half the questions to his assistant commissioner. It seems that HE doesn’t even know, which is frightening.

      That being said, I’m absolutely certain that the njdoe prepped before this hearing. That they would reduce themselves to ridiculous sound bites, that were clearly inaccurate says a lot about how little they value the public and particularly this legislature.

      Parents and teachers might have been more supportive throughout this process, had we been kept in the loop throughout the process and if we had we been included in the process.

      So many questions left unanswered…

  3. Mary Porter (chemtchr)

    Bob, I received the following message in my school email on March 3, 2015, from Pearson Technote
    I’m going to paste in the whole thing.

    The Facts About PowerSchool
    Last week, Pearson announced that it intends to explore options for a sale of its SIS business, which includes PowerSchool. (Please see Customer Letter and FAQs at the end of these facts.) Unfortunately, but perhaps predictably, some of our competitors are using this announcement as an opportunity to make false statements about PowerSchool. So, we want to dispel any rumors and give you the facts!
    Fact #1 – PowerSchool is the clear market leader…more customers choose PowerSchool than any SIS competitor, by a wide margin. PowerSchool has a 99% retention rate, a clear indication of customer satisfaction year after year. This is because over 450 development, sales, support and services professionals are delivering the most trusted, flexible SIS in the market to districts and schools of ALL sizes. We serve 40 million users globally, including 13 million students.
    Fact #2 – PowerSchool is at the heart of the largest educational technology ecosystem in K12. Unique among SIS providers, PowerSchool has embraced a secure, open architecture and provided an extensive set of APIs that customers control to enable their schools to have the industry’s best integrations. Today, more than 132 companies are formal members of the PowerSchool ISV program. PowerSchool is the best – and often only – choice for the foundation of your digital ecosystem.
    Fact #3 – PowerSchool gives you choices. Some SIS companies try to convince you that their system does everything, so you don’t need any other products. What they don’t tell you is that many of their other “modules” are missing features, are hard to use, and may be difficult or impossible to replace with more fully featured products from other vendors. Companies that try to do everything usually end up not doing anything well. PowerSchool is designed from the ground up to enable you to create the best solution for your district’s specific needs.
    Fact #4 – PowerSchool has the largest online community. Whether its support forums, tips and training, user groups, or customization, the largest SIS community in the world can be found on PowerSource. Need a customization or report template? Odds are high that another PowerSchool user somewhere has already created it and made it available for you!
    Fact #5 – PowerSchool supports more state/Federal/provincial reports than anyone. Not only does PowerSchool support more states/provinces than any other SIS company, we have the largest team in the industry dedicated to this important function. In fact, as of March 1st, 2015, PowerSchool is the only company certified in more than one state on the new Ed-Fi reporting technology. When you choose an SIS company, make sure you choose one with the proven ability to support your existing reporting requirements and a proven commitment to new reporting models.
    Fact #6 – PowerSchool is still the easiest to use SIS. PowerSchool not only has the features your users need, we invest heavily in the designs to make those features easy to use as well.
    Fact #7 – PowerSchool has the best mobile apps. If you want to judge the importance an SIS company places on its users, there may be no better way than looking at its mobile apps. And when you compare the family of mobile apps available for PowerSchool to any company, you’ll see there is no comparison.
    Fact #8 – PowerSchool continues to invest in new features. We have the largest R&D team in the SIS market and we will continue to deliver a robust pipeline of new features and enhancements!
    Fact #9 – Pearson will have a long relationship with PowerSchool. Pearson has formally announced that it will join the PowerSchool ISV program and will continue to support the current integrations between PowerSchool and other Pearson products.
    Fact #10 – Pearson’s decision is not a reflection on the health of the PowerSchool platform. In fact, it is the opposite. The SIS business, which includes PowerSchool, is a very healthy business that is no longer aligned with Pearson’s corporate mission. This is a good opportunity for Pearson to ensure that PowerSchool maintains its market-winning momentum and it affords Pearson a way to accelerate its goals in other areas.
    We are working closely with our rapidly growing community of customers and partners to deliver solutions that solve your administrative and instructional needs.
    Until a new owner is identified, Pearson will continue to provide the level of service and support that customers have come to expect, and we will always keep the customer as the focus of our business. The PowerSchool development team is focused on innovative technologies, such as API and Ed-Fi, which will ensure ease of use and efficiency in managing critical school and classroom data.
    If you have any questions about PowerSchool, please contact your Pearson Account Manager, or call 1-877-873-1550 or visit http://www.PowerSchool.com. You can also find out more about this announcement on our blog at http://www.pearsonschoolsystems.com/blog/.
    Customer Letter
    February 27, 2015
    Dear Valued Customer:
    We are announcing our decision to explore sale options for our Student Information System (SIS) businesses. The School Information System businesses include PowerSchool®, PowerSchool SMS, Gradespeed, and eSIS Forms. In preparation for this sale, we have decided to reorganize the SIS businesses into an integrated, stand-alone unit.
    After careful consideration, we decided that these systems do not align with Pearson’s stated commitment to focus on products and services that shape student outcomes in a way we can directly measure and improve. This commitment is at the heart of our business model and guides the decisions we make, and this sale demonstrates that we take that responsibility seriously.
    During this transition period, our top priority is to make sure our customers continue to have a positive experience with our products. Our PowerSchool team will consist of the same dedicated professionals who currently support your schools every day. Your relationship with us will remain the same. We will do all we can to make this transition as seamless as possible for you.
    These businesses have been an important and successful part of Pearson’s portfolio. We have long invested in the development of our market-leading SIS products, and we are confident that a new owner will ensure these businesses continue to thrive. Student Information Systems (SIS) will continue to play a critical role in the administration of student data for attendance, grades, student transcripts, class schedules, and state reporting.
    We are committed to continuing the support and services you’ve come to expect with Pearson. If you have any additional questions about this announcement, please contact your Pearson Account Manager.
    Sincerely,
    Don Kilburn
    President North America
    Doug Kubach
    President, School
    Customer FAQ
    How many school districts will this affect?
    Pearson’s SIS systems support more than 6000 school districts and 13 million students in 78 countries with comprehensive, web-based administrative systems for managing student data including attendance, grades, student transcripts, class schedules, and state reporting.
    Why did Pearson make this decision?
    Student information systems are administrative in nature and do not focus on learning and learning outcomes. This decision allows Pearson to focus efforts and resources on the development of learner-centric technology and services that result in a measurable impact on student outcomes.
    What percent of the market uses a non-Pearson SIS?
    75% of the market uses a non-Pearson SIS. Divesting our SIS businesses will support Pearson’s strategy to deliver personalized learning regardless of the SIS and remove impediments of Pearson products integrating with other SIS providers.
    Does this mean Pearson doesn’t value the use of data to drive quality of teaching and learning?
    The Student Information Systems (SIS) businesses focus on administrative workflow and student data. These services, while crucial to the operation of schools and districts, are not used to directly measure and drive student outcomes as defined by Pearson’s mission. While that means they can’t be a priority for Pearson’s future investment, SIS businesses remain essential to the continued improvement of student educational opportunities.
    How will Pearson work with PowerSchool going forward?
    Once the sale is complete, we will maintain a strong relationship with PowerSchool, including joining the PowerSchool Partner Program (ISV).
    What is the ISV Program?
    PowerSchool’s application programming interface (API) tools have enabled the PowerSchool team to build the largest, most rapidly expanding network of education technology partnerships in K-12. Over 120 PowerSchool independent software vendor (ISV) partners work with PowerSchool to deliver connected solutions in areas such as special education, online registration, data analytics, and parental and student engagement to the administrators, teachers, parents and students that use PowerSchool. Moving forward, Pearson will continue to partner with PowerSchool through the ISV program. PowerSchool and its partners, such as Blackboard®, SchoolMessenger®, InfoSnap® and Schoology® work collaboratively to bring flexible, integrated solutions to PowerSchool customers.
    Will PowerSchool continue to integrate with Pearson products?
    Many of the Pearson products, such as GradPoint™, Schoolnet® and Review360®, seamlessly integrate with PowerSchool as well, providing schools with expanded functionality to support instruction, assessment and reporting, and saving schools time, money and resources. PowerSchool will continue to support the Schoolnet+PowerSchool integration.
    What can I expect during the process to explore the divestiture?
    During this transition, Pearson is committed to supporting all School Systems’ products currently implemented in schools and districts across the globe. Development, sales, support, services and all administrative functions will remain the same. Pearson plans no major structural changes to the business during the sale process.
    Who do I call if I have questions?
    Customers should call their Account Manager if they have any questions.
    Will Pearson continue to support my implementation?
    Yes, nothing has changed during this exploration process. Pearson will continue to support your implementation and provide implementation services under contract.
    When will I know if Pearson finds a buyer for their SIS systems?
    Pearson will keep customers informed throughout the process and will notify customers if/when a buyer has been located.

    • Bill Wolfe

      The reference to “customer” says it all.

      Our kids are mere products and teachers are production managers.

      I think Mario Savio understood the implications many years ago at Berkeley

  4. Kathleen Dalessio

    I am starting to think this is a well thought out Political move to avoid anyone being accountable to parents, or students. What they fail to acknowledge is that without our kids they have no experient or data ~ this breathtaking lack of regard for the very people they are charged with representing is disgusting. I for one am removing my son from Public school because I have zero trust or faith in any administrator or Superintendent, or representative. The integrity or the system as a whole, obviously have made the apparent move toward greed, political correctness & corporate profiteering instead of learning, nurturing, inspiring & encouraging innovation and creativity. I regret that he will not have the benefit &influence of the wonderful gifted Teachers he’s had for 10. Years whose talents are being stifled by Common Core and PARCC. Although I have made the decision to provide my son with a meaningful education through private school, I will NEVER stop fighting to return the public classroom to the Teachers.

    • Heidi Brown

      Thank you Kathleen. Not every family can afford private school. Our public schools are a beacon of democracy. For many teachers, the first hour of their day is checking:

      1. Did you eat last night? Do you need to wash your hand and face?
      2. Do you need to brush your teeth?
      3. Do you need a change of clothes?

      It concerns me greatly that we have lost our compassion.

      There is a time and place for everything, including tests.

      In the meantime, our children deserve better.

  5. Becca Fields

    This should disgust us but not surprise us. The public lost control of public education quite a long time ago. The Chiefs for Change hijacked public education behind closed doors and technology, data mining, profiling, etc were all part of this scheme. The weakening of FERPA was a bold move pushed by the third party vendors that benefitted. It was a neon warning sign for us as parents and stewards of public education. What we are seeing now is the logical course of this path. We should refuse the test in protest but the solutions include ridding public schools of high stakes testing (and CCSS is going to have to be part of that because CCSS and high stakes are inextricably linked by the Federal Government), push for FERPA changes or higher protections at state level, refuse to share our children’s directory information and forcing public education to divest from Pearson which controls the market share right now of a cornerstone of our democracy.

    • Heidi Brown

      Great comment, just a follow up.

      According to the article and to Pearson, PEARSON does NOT own the intellectual property rights to the PARCC. The states do.

      So WHAT is the excuse for “monitoring” students?

      If the states HIRED Pearson to HIRE a subcontractor, then our focus needs to be on the NJDOE.

      Bottom line, the test is fundamentally flawed because:
      1. of the huge testing window (Feb., Mar., Apr., May)
      2. limitations of content

      Hespe himself admitted at the March 12th hearing that the NJDOE normally hadn’t seen this amount of refusals. He even acknowledged that participation in the high schools is problematic.

      What I can say for sure today is that I am very happy I refused for my son.

  6. Julie Borst

    Assemblyman Rible came close to asking what I’d like to know: What happens to the data collected when the post/tweet is determined to be not a problem? Do they save it? Do they then flag that student and go back and check on them periodically? Who gets notified on all the ones not deemed a problem?

  7. Kate

    The student behavior being suppressed by the current testing cartel is exactly the behavior that should be encouraged if we are to produce critical thinkers and problem solvers. Good teachers encourage students to reflect on their work, to learn from and correct their mistakes, and to collaborate with others to solve problems. Students are currently being taught that they take a test and must never speak or think of it again. Obviously, what’s important to the cartel is NOT students’ learning – it’s protection of the bottom line.

    While they may weasel out of responsibility for their legally questionable profit-protecting actions, Pearson (and the NJ DoE) need to be held accountable for enforcing astoundingly bad instructional practice.

    • Bill Wolfe

      Children – students – should not be intimidated in expressing their point of view on PARRC or any other matter.

      The fact that school administrators and/or corporations are monitoring them is a total outrage.

  8. Donna

    Just goes to show the corruption and how far these greedy scums will go to make a few billion. Also, how far the oligarchs will go to get the schools privatized. Its all really sickening. Keep shining the light people. Bob, you totally rock. Great work here.

  9. Educator

    Has anyone actually seen the tweet(s) in question? My sources tell me they only barely mentioned specific aspects of the question. In other words, you would have to stretch a great deal to prove the student did the equivalent of “handing out the test on the schoolhouse steps”

    Bob Braun: Ms. Jewett, the superintendent of Watchung Hills, has not been forthcoming on details of the tweet in question. If anyone out there has seen it, you could do a great service by making it public so others can know just what triggers this “darkness at Noon” response from Pearson.

  10. public education supporter

    A source from Watchung Hills says that Jewett’s leaked email referred to a tweet containing comments while 2 other students who were also suspended actually tweeted pictures snapped with cell phones. The source refers that one of the pictures tweeted contained a photograph of the student’s essay that included a fragment of a sentence from the Pearson prompt. The school apparently suspended the two picture-snapping students not for revealing PARCC material, but for having their cell phones and using them before they handed in their tests. It seems that the students were instructed to place their cell phones in their backpacks and then they “checked” their backpacks away from where they sat to take the test. The proctors were later scolded by Watchung Hills Administration for not watching the students carefully enough but the proctors I talked to said that they were in a cafeteria with hundreds of kids and it would have been impossible to ensure that every student followed the directions rather than pocketing their cell phones and keeping them during testing. The rationale for suspending the students was based on an infraction of the school discipline policy which says that taking pictures of assessments is a punishable offense. However, if the original girl only tweeted comments after school then it doesn’t make sense that the school suspended her since that would not be an infraction of the school’s policy. That looks like they may have caved into pressure from the DOE.

  11. Bill Wolfe

    If Pearson is a contractor, there must be a contract.

    I would be shocked if that contract does not address intellectual property rights.

    OPRA is your friend.

    • Tim

      An excerpt from the PARCC 735page contract:

      Internet and Social Media Monitoring Services
      Pearson will collaborate with Caveon Test Security to provide Internet and social media
      monitoring services proposes. Caveon’s team will patrol the Internet, websites, blogs,
      discussion forums, video archives, social media, document archives, brain dumps, auction
      sites, media outlets, peer-to-peer servers, etc., for information related to the PARCC Spring,
      End of Course, small volume block schedule, and summer retake administrations.
      The Caveon Web Patrol service addresses risks to test and items posed by illicit discussion,
      distribution, and sale of test content on the Internet. This service uses a suite of proprietary
      search methodologies and technology tools, in concert with human expertise. Caveon will
      generate regular updates that will categorize identified threats by level of actual or potential
      risk based upon the representations made on the web sites, or actual analysis of the
      proffered content.
      Web sites and Internet extracts are ranked from CLEARED (Lowest risk but are continually
      monitored for updated content) to SEVERE (Highest risk). Updates contain all needed
      information, including specific URLs, to quickly evaluate and begin the process of eliminating
      the threat.

      V.C – 80 V.C Psychometric Services
      DPP – 490

      Page 233

  12. Bill Wolfe

    Bob – BTW, related but slightly off topic:

    Hespe’s no show was expression of similar arrogance and contempt as the NJ AG and DEP Commissioner, who refused to appear on Thursday before the Assembly Judiciary Committee conducting oversight hearings on the Christie Administration’s sweetheart deal with Exxon – 3 cents on the dollar.

    And the lies and incompetence are shared as well.

  13. Bill Wolfe

    Bob – assume you’ve read today’s Star Ledger editorial, which tries to dampen the criticism and in so doing shows a shocking lack of support for privacy.

  14. Jon

    I found that several of the ‘comment’ postings under NJ.com articles were from text on the http://www.pearsonclassroomlink.com site. When this information was posted, all my comments were almost immediately deleted. How can this be done without the direct assistance of the nj.com?

    Bob Braun: It can’t.

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