Where students once passed notes or looked over their shoulder, today they can use Twitter, Instagram or Facebook to send a test question to a friend. And as the means of cheating have evolved, so have the efforts to stop them. The Twitter posters were caught by a testing company trolling social media with advanced software that works continuously to find key words or phrases.
Social media have been a factor in cheating on high-stake tests like the SAT and ACT for years. But the problem is now cropping up with younger students taking standardized tests, especially with the rollout of an assessment tied to more rigorous standards known as the Common Core.
"What is new here is that this is happening in K-12," said Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, an organization that works to eliminate the misuses and flaws of standardized tests.
In Maryland, students used to be tested on their progress in math and reading with the Maryland School Assessment, a paper-and-pencil test, over the course of a week or two each spring.
This year, students in Maryland, the District of Columbia and 10 other states that have adopted the Common Core are taking the new test. A paper version is available, but many school systems are giving the test online over the course of a month. Schools with a limited numbers of computers can give the test when they have the space, rather than at a set time.
With so many variables, the possibility of breaches of test security grows.
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Educational publisher Pearson, which is administering the test known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, has found more than 70 instances in six states of students posting testing materials on a public social media site, according to spokesman Jesse Comart.