In a letter obtained and published by the blog Bob Braun’s Ledger, Elizabeth Jewett, the regional high school district superintendent for Watchung Hills, New Jersey, told colleagues she had been made aware through the New Jersey department of education that a student had tweeted about an upcoming exam.

“The student deleted the tweet, and we spoke with the parent – who was obviously highly concerned as to her child’s tweets being monitored by the DOE,” Jewett said, adding that the department of education had informed her that Pearson was “monitoring all social media” during the testing period and had demanded the student be disciplined.

“I have to say I find it a bit disturbing,” Jewett’s letter said.

Bob Braun’s Ledger said that Jewett told them of two other incidents where Pearson had identified alleged cheating on social media through its monitoring, which is done through a third-party company named Caveon.

In a statement posted to the high school district website, Jewett said she stood by the concerns expressed in the email. She did not respond to the Guardian’s request for comment.

The revelation caused something of a storm on social media. On Twitter, people began tweeting under the hashtag #MonitoredByPearson. Many shared a cartoon comparing the textbook company to the Lord of the Rings villain Sauron, complete with a flaming all-seeing eye atop a gothic tower.

Others shared the simple slogan “Pearson: Always Watching”.

The furor comes as New Jersey instigates a new, statewide electronic examination system known as Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, which has already been controversial, with many parents choosing to opt out of the system.

In a statement, Pearson said that it was “contractually required by states to monitor public conversations on social media to ensure that no assessment information (text, photos, etc) that is secure and not public is improperly disclosed”.

“The security of a test is critical to ensure fairness for all students and teachers and to ensure that the results of any assessment are trustworthy and valid,” the statement said.

High school students in New Mexico participate in a walkout against the new nationwide Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers online exam. Photograph: Robin Zielinski/AP


Steve Addicott, the vice-president and founder of Caveon, defended the monitoring, saying that it was part of the best practices recommended by almost all exam boards and test organizations, including the Unilateral Test Commission, to ensure the validity of test results.

“Our position is when someone posts information on Twitter, or some other publicly available website, by definition they want that information to be public,” he said. “That’s what Twitter is.”

He said that Caveon was “absolutely not” monitoring private accounts or messages.

“I understand the concerns,” Addicott said, “but from our standpoint, we’re only looking for our clients’ intellectual property.”

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