Are millions of K-12 students about to be surveilled & analyzed with the same proctoring tech universities are abandoning?

Posted March 31, 2021, 9:56 PM


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The Biden Administration is denying pandemic waivers for testing children as young as 8. Companies with controversial e-proctoring features hold the contracts.

K-12 schools across the country are on the verge of holding remote-proctored state assessment tests, putting millions of children on camera and potentially subjecting them to the same snake oil facial recognition & biometric AI features universities are abandoning in the wake of backlash over racial bias, ableism, discrimination, privacy, and efficacy concerns.

In 2020, federal K-12 student testing requirements for states were waived due to the pandemic, but in 2021 education technology company lobbyists have caught the scent of pandemic recovery money, and are advocating for remote tests that educators insist will be useless at best, and harmful at worst.

Members of major state testing consortium SBAC, including California, have a contract with opaque educational technology vendor Cambium, a company that advertises controversial artificial intelligence and scoring algorithms for their tests. Members of major state testing consortium PARCC, including New Jersey, have a contract with Pearson to administer their tests. Pearson is partnered with embattled eproctoring company ProctorU. At least one institution in Texas uses Proctorio on K-12 students, collecting footage that at least 400 people may have access to. It is unclear whether Texas will use Proctorio to eproctor the upcoming federally-mandated exams.

"We need to recognize this moment in student privacy, surveillance, and data collection for what it is—an epic data heist leading to the use of predictive algorithms that could negatively impact students’ future opportunities," said Roxana Marachi (she/her), associate professor of education at San José State University. "The push to eproctor these tests is based on a false premise—that the existence of data, no matter how flawed, false, or incomplete, matters more than the students themselves. The converging harms of e-proctoring, AI, and other data collection technologies in K-12 education are invisible to most school leaders, parents, educators, and students. Our privacy laws and practices have not kept up with the rapid influx of invasive educational technologies and it’s the height of hypocrisy for testing proponents to suggest that administering these tests will in any way serve the interests of underserved youth."

Testing windows are already open in some states as of last week. Others are awaiting word on whether they will receive the testing waiver that Ohio was recently denied, creating a situation in which many hours of testing for individual students must be rolled out and scored in a matter of weeks. Some full-time teachers have just been provided 400 pages of test prep training for tests starting May 3. Others have yet to be provided any information at all.

Also unclear amidst this hurried testing rollout is how writing and other assessments will be scored—if, as with College Board’s Accuplacer test from this school year, they will be graded with the sorts of Automated Scoring AIs that caused outrage in Britain last year.

"The scope of this edutech cash grab, on the backs of children as young as eight years old, is truly astounding," said Lia Holland (she/they) Campaigns and Communications Director at Fight for the Future, a group pushing back against child surveillance and eproctoring. "Just like at the university level, surveillance companies are swooping in to sell inequitable products that may include racist add-ons like facial recognition, and ableist anti-cheating algorithms that track so-called abnormal behavior like eye movement. On top of it all, these remote tests require stable internet connections that many kids just don’t have and constitute a major privacy violation. The only thing these tests will accurately assess is how many of our tax dollars surveillance & spyware companies will co-opt to harm the privacy and equitable education of vulnerable students. The normalization of child surveillance technologies in education must end immediately."

Over 500 education researchers and scholars have co-signed a letter urging Education Secretary Cardona to grant states waivers to halt this year’s federally mandated standardized tests, noting that the tests will exacerbate inequality and produce invalid data. This letter comes following another endorsed by over 200 education deans and leaders that emphasizes how "the shift to online education widens long-standing inequities and injustices in education."