Montville Student’s Tweet Monitored by Pearson and Forensics Wins Discussed by Board of Ed

On Tuesday, March 24, Montville Township Board of Education member Michael Palma discusses Pearson's monitoring of the social media of kids who are taking the PARCC test. Credits: Melissa Benno
Montville Township School District Board of Education Meeting March 24, 2015. Credits: Melissa Benno

MONTVILLE, NJ - The Montville Township Board of Education convened for an extremely short meeting on Tuesday, March 24 during which time an update was provided on the District's Superintendent search, information was provided relating to Pearson monitoring Montville students' tweets and recent wins by the Forensics team were highlighted. 

Superintendent Search

Board President Dr. Karen Cortellino reported that the search firm charged with finding Montville a new superintendent to replace departing Dr. Paul Fried has met with stakeholders in the district, reviewed submitted résumés, and that following the meeting, the Board would go back into closed session to review them.

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Pearson Monitoring Students’ Tweets

Last week a blog called Bob Braun’s Ledger revealed that Pearson, the company administering New Jersey’s new state testing called PARCC, is monitoring New Jersey students’ social media postings to check for possible confidentiality breaches.  (Read the posting HERE.)

The posting describes how the superintendent of the Watchung School District received a communication from the state Department of Education informing her that a student had tweeted about a test question from PARCC, and that the DOE wanted the student disciplined.

It was revealed at the BOE meeting that a similar situation occurred in Montville.  Later, Cortellino told TAPintoMontville that Assistant Superintendent Dr. Casey Shorter had received a similar phone call on March 17 from the Department of Education regarding a Montville student in 10th grade.  Cortellino stated that the student was not disciplined.

Board Member Michael Palma stated, “I would like a discussion about the disclosure that Pearson is monitoring social media accounts of kids who are taking the PARCC test.  Some things have arisen in the news since this time, where Pearson is saying they will ‘no longer use data’ – apparently they were given primary information about students – ‘to track the students,’ which leads me to the question, why do they have it in the first place?

“For those who haven’t seen the news, apparently several students across the state and one in this District, apparently, had tweeted some things about the PARCC tests, and no sooner did they tweet it, than Pearson got a hold of it, went to the Department of Education, and according to the DOE, wanted the students disciplined.  Not just in this District, but in other districts too.

“I guess there’s nothing illegal about Pearson monitoring students’ tweets as long as they’re public accounts.  I would say that it’s creepy.  The bigger concern that I have, is Pearson’s apparent access to databases through the DOE that were able to match the tweet with the name. 

“I guess the first question I have is, does Pearson, in fact, have access to information about our District from the DOE that enables them to see a tweet and know whose account it is?” asked Palma.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Fried replied, “It’s my understanding that when they come across this information, there is often identifying information in the tweet that allows them to understand the name of the student or the name of the school district and trace it further.  Pearson had a database of student information provided for the testing situation, and when they sent their information to the DOE, they’re able to match things together pretty easily.

“For example, the tweet that our student here sent out, I think Montville was referenced in the tweet and potentially, the student’s name as well,” stated Fried.

Cortellino stated, “I don’t think this issue is going to go away.  I think Pearson is going to have to explain ‘how’ and ‘why.’  I think it’s causing the ire of many school districts.”

“And probably several parents too,” Palma added.

Fried commented, “Dr. Shorter shared an example with me that a district that did not have many opt-outs from the PARCC testing had about 100 the morning after this news became known.   Pearson thinks [monitoring social media] is necessary to ensure that no cheating takes place.“

Cortellino commented, “I think what’s inflamed so many people is the way the DOE said Pearson directs the DOE to ‘discipline your students.’  It’s unbelievable that they would say that.”

Forensics Wins

Student Liaison to the Board Jay Sirot announced the following wins at “two of its biggest tournaments of the season” by the Montville Township High School Forensics team:

Matthew Pilsbury – finalist in Congressional Debate

Emily Liao – 6th palce in Declamation

Claire Sullivan and James Burnett – 5th in Duo Interpretation

James Burtnett – 5th in Dramatic Interpretation

Natasha Dusaj – 5th in Original Oratory

Nithya Rheddy – 5th in Declamation

Pranav Kumar – 5th in Congressional Debate

Jay Sirot – 4th in Impromptu Speaking

Noah Weinflash – 4th in Domestic Extemporaneous

Christopher Mayer – 2nd in International Extemporaneous

Further, there were six State Champions and five Varsity Governor’s Award recipients:

Shawn Brelvi – Improvisational Acting

Jay Sirot – Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking

Noah Weinflash – Original Oratory (he is the defending champion)

Claire Sullivan – Poetry Reading (she is also the defending champion)

Elaine Huang – Lincoln Douglas Debate (Varsity)

Ravi Upadhya – Lincoln Douglas Debate (Junior Varsity)

“Team Sweeps” included third place in Debate, second place in Speech, and second place overall.

District competition awards included Jay Sirot qualifying for nationals in U.S. Extemporaneous Speaking, Noah Weinflash qualifying in Original Oratory, Pranav Kuma qualifying in the “Senate” category, and Matt Pilsbury qualifying in the “House” category.


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