Testing spies admit they “cast a really broad and deep net”



We are not spies
We are not spies

New Jersey is paying nearly $100,000 to  a Utah company to go through hundreds of thousands of social media postings to determine whether children are revealing anything about the PARCC tests. The company, Caveon Test Security, is a subcontractor to Pearson, the  British-based publishing company.

Caveon will not, however, reveal how it links what it finds to specific students–like those in at least three New Jersey school districts who were caught up in the testing security dragnet. It also won’t say how many students it has snagged in New Jersey.

The company  Caveon “continually patrols the internet looking for inappropriate sharing or discussion,” an executive of the company told Adam Clark, a reporter for New Jersey Advance Media, the platform for stories appearing in a number of media outlets, including the Star-Ledger and its  digital partner, nj.com.

We are not spies
We are not spies

The story generally tries to dismiss the importance of the revelation about Pearson’s monitoring of the social media posts of children, not only in  New Jersey but in a dozen other states requiring students to take the PARCC tests.  Despite the international reaction of  shock and anger to the disclosures, the reporter refers to it as “not new or uncommon.”

Trust me, Mr. Clark, it is new to a lot of people, mostly parents of children who were unaware of it. I have heard from people throughout the world who, unlike you, do not believe it is not new nor uncommon.

But in downplaying the importance of a story it ignored for four days, the outlet—deliberately or not–all but missed a major piece to  the spying puzzle.  Some people–we don’t know who they are or how they were vetted or what their credentials are–is reading countless numbers of transmissions posted by children.

We are not spies
We are not spies

”We use a bunch of different search technology (sic) to cast a really broad and deep net, and then our team, our analysts, spend lots of hours culling through the noise to hone in on what really appears to be a threat,” the reports the Caveon executive, Steve Addison, as saying.

Really broad and deep.

These unknown trolls are making judgments about what they read–and they are reading everything children are posting on Twitter and, possibly, other social media platforms. I hope they are at ;east making minimum wage.

The reporter notes that Caveon alerts its clients to “both obvious and possible” threats. He also quoted both Pearson and Caveon as saying the children whose posts are being scanned have “no expectation of privacy.”

We are not spies
We are not spies

The expectation of privacy is a term of art that is not so simple to define. Because no one–beyond Caveon, Pearson and some state governments–knows how to connect often pseudonymous Twitter handles to actual children, no final judgment can be made. And these folks are not telling.

Full disclosure: Bob Braun’s Ledger asked both Pearson and the state education department–including Michael Yaple, quoted in Clark’s story–for the information that turned up in the New Jersey Advance Media story, but they refused to answer questions. Hoping, one surmises, for better treatment from certain media outlets than others. Interesting partnership among main=stream media, government, and private corporations–not too healthy for a democracy.

blogpearson7The Assembly Education Committee has scheduled a hearing for 10 a.m. Thursday on the spying revelations. State Education Commissioner David Hespe and representatives from Pearson have been asked to testify, but it is not yet known who will show up.










  1. It’s not so much the invasion of privacy but the sheer paranoia and obsession with test security that bothers me. Obviously, the students are being harassed by accusations, but what did Pearson expect? To protect all their “big bucks” in test development, they are desperate to protect their precious tests no matter what. $108 million in NJ, $200+ million in Florida, and why would they want to have to rewrite any questions that might have been compromised?

    Supposedly, in NJ, there were perhaps a dozen different versions of the test administered. What are the chances that the questions students may have shared were on all the tests? Could it be that the students who did share questions may have been trying to learn something? I mean, actually learn something by discussing the problems with their peers? Were their intentions evil? Were they actually attempting to cheat or just to find out if they’d given the right answers on questions that puzzled them?

    When there is no open discussion, education falters. It’s clear these tests have nothing to do with education and learning.

    I am discussing this on my blog at: http://magiskeep.blogspot.com/

    1. Could these people possibly be the ones using NSA techniques to remove my RTs of Bob Braun’s Tweets, along with any other negative RTs regarding Christie & other Republican politicians? These RTs are removed quickly & on a daily basis.

    2. I agree, the test is pernicious.

  2. The content of this story is disconcerting in the total disregard for the privacy of minors. Taking a test is used as a justification for access to children’s social media participation. I fear for the future of our democracy.

  3. If parents are concerned about people looking at the things their kids post on the Internet they should reconsider why they let their kids have Facebook and Twitter accounts in the first place. No one broke into their homes, or hacked their kids phones or laptops to get this info, it was posted on the web. Using incendiary words like “spies” and “trolls” just points how slanted the “reporter’s” story really is. And if you pressed the SAT or ACT people hard enough, you’d find out that they do something similar to protect the integrity of their tests.

    So this is just more Tempest in a Teapot, and part of the ongoing effort to sink the PARCC test before it can show taxpayers and parents how well (or not) their money is being spent and their children educated.

    Bob Braun: Those with either a financial or political interest in seeing PARCC succeed spend a fortune on ads extolling the virtue of PARCC. Their defenders use words like “monitoring” and “security” instead of “spying” and “trolling.” Sorry, but I hold with the parents who, without resources of multi-billion dollar corporations like Pearson, are frightened of overreach by state government and profit-making corporations–and they are the ones who are using “spying” and “trolls.” And can you, in all honestly, tell me PARCC will tell us something about the condition of education? After 50 years of covering education–including a presence at the outset of the first testing program, the New Jersey Assessment of Education Progress (NJAEP) in 1969–I can predict the results. Poor school districts, overwhelmed by poverty and the excesses of the people who own corporations like Pearson, will do miserably, while those in the wealthiest suburbs will do well. Nothing has changed. What is new is the abandonment of belief in public education, the willingness to pay and treat teachers as professionals, and the discovery of profit in education from companies like Pearson and Google. You want “slant” my friend? Just read the so-called “journalism” of those who parrot the words of public relations spokespersons for big corporations and government awncies and that’s where you will find slant. I know, my friend, I was there. I heard it, and I got sick of it. Too many journalists are stenographers who are not permitted to think independently and see things–and report things–as they really are.

    1. The privacy issue here is serious: how did Pearson find out which student, of all of the students in the world, had that twitter handle? How did they know the school the student attends, how to contact that school, and on what grounds do they recommend disciplinary policy anyway? Why is Pearson interested in what students post after the test is over? Aside from the privacy of it all, why are we wasting all of this money to find out what we already pay teachers to find out. The teachers are bound to protect the students’ privacy, I might add.

  4. […] writes on his blog that New Jersey is paying $100,000 to Caveon Test Security, a subcontractor to Pearson, to determine whether students are revealing anything about […]

  5. What needs to be revealed is how did the Pearson trolls link a twitter account to a specific student. It alarms me because Pearson also owns the software used by the schools for student data. Those programs contain the students state ID number, name, age, address, phone number and a picture in most cases. We tell our kids to be careful on the Internet, monitor what they do, and Pearson has unlimited access to all their personal information. Pearson hires people from ads on Craig’s list. I wonder how many pedophiles answer those ads. Does Pearson run criminal background checks on those folks? Don’t think so

    Bob Braun: Excellent comment. You should ask your legislator. I will be publishing the names of the members of the Assembly education committee.

    1. I emailed Assemblyman Diegnan. Hope it does some good. Thanks for all your work on this matter.

  6. Just driving home and listening to 101.5 and what do I hear but a commercial for the PARCC. Basically, a few friends “chatting” about how great it is, and how “misunderstood”. This tells me two things: They are running scared that their investment and profits are going down the tubes. There are people that are going to believe this pathetic PSA by some made up “non-profit, non-partisan” group I never heard of which I’m sure it’s paid for by people making a profit. I’ve never heard these ads before. Direct correlation with your recent breaking news??

    Bob Braun: There is a lot of money behind PARCC.

  7. Although, I agree with the concerns expressed in the comments and tweets associated with the monitoring/spying issue, we should not lose sight of a very important issue that was revealed in the email from the Superintendent to her colleagues: The New Jersey State Department of Education asked her to discipline a student in her school district.
    Asking local districts to impose discipline on a student in that district is totally beyond the scope of the New Jersey State Department of Education. What comes next? Ordering disciplinary action? Ordering specific disciplinary action? Suspension? Expulsion? Ordering the filing of criminal charges?

    The people of New Jersey better wake up. Draw a line in the sand now. Express your outrage by being present at the Assembly Hearing on Thursday. Let our Legislators know that you share their outrage. Do it for your children…

    1. Btw, we can see what happens when the New Jersey State Department of Education meddles in or takes control of school districts. Look at what is happening in Newark after 20 years of State control: utter failure and chaos…

      Bob Braun: Amen.

  8. Wouldn’t connecting pseudonymous Twitter handles to actual children require access to confidential Twitter account information?

    Bob Braun: That’s a question that absolutely needs to be answered.

  9. 1. The urgent issue for Thursday meeting is the “monitoring.” Concurrent issues are the quality/validity/rationale of PARCC tests. Before folks head to Trenton, they may want to read Valerie Strauss’s 4-20-12 Answer Sheet in Wash Post: “Talking Pineapple question on standardized test baffles students.” Or google Pearson pineapple & find articles. Some might be tempted to sport pineapple boutonnieres at hearing. Just to show you’re thinking about quality, too.

    2. The history of the”monitoring” must be interesting. Did Pearson propose it to DoE? How many subcontractors are there? Who all knew? Did county superintendents know “monitoring” was contracted? Was there “monitoring” for last year’s pilots in selected NJ districts?

  10. While I am concerned about Pearson’s access to data that linked the student to the device, and I am also concerned about the Superintendent’s remarks. The Superintendent was worried about the reactions and the questions from other parents once the story broke. Not a word about the student being accused unfairly, or that the monitoring could have been a violation of free speech, especially after school.

    Bob Braun: I agree. I noted the irony of Ms. Jewett refusing to provide any more information on the grounds of privacy when the issue is the violation of her students’ privacy. In an email I sent her, I noted I was not interested in the behavior of children but rather that of adults. And I think that is true of all the media outlets she has refused to answer since last Friday.

  11. Bravissimo to Bob Braun for his diligence and determination in exposing this rotten, stinking mess! As someone else posted, his reportage is surely Pulitzer Prize material. PARCC and its supporters should be hanging their heads in abject shame.

  12. Orwell, 1984.

    1. Available as a Penguin Modern Classic. Pearson owns 47% of Penguin.

  13. Yet another absolute over the top scam. Please find a clue America. Hint- the clue is not on Corporate media

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