Click and post: CST security breach

The Age of Instagram is creating headaches for the state Department of Education and ETS, the contractor for the state’s standardized tests. At least 100 students from 34 school districts had posted images on social media of materials from various state tests they took, according to Paul Hefner, spokesman for Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torakson.

For students, the photos may have reflected just another mundane moment in a running record of their daily lives. For the Department, they were a breach that prompted Torlakson to send out a bulletin Friday to remind districts to follow security protocols, which include prohibiting access to cell phones. (They might also ask where the proctors were when students whipped out their cell phones and snapped photos.)

A Department press release said that most of the photos were of students posing with a closed test booklet and blank answer pages. There were also some messages that students created, by inventively bubbling in their answer sheets, to show their enthusiasm about the California Standardized Tests (CST).

Art in lieu of answers. "You only live once."
Art in lieu of answers. "You only live once."

See the photo “YOLO” which I took from Twitter; my daughter tells me it means “You Only Live Once” (but take standardized tests forever).

However, the Department acknowledged there were also some images of test questions or completed answer sheets from CST and high school exit exams. Indeed, a quick search on Twitter using the search symbol or hashtag #cst turned up a photo of questions that appeared to be from the Algebra II test, and completed answer sheets from an unidentified test. Of course,  images that may not have been posted but possibly shared no doubt are giving ETS heartburn.

The press release said that the Department will ask social media sites, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, and Webstagram, to take down the images of test material, on the grounds that it is an unauthorized use of copyrighted material. Hefner said he didn’t know how quickly that could occur. The Department will work with districts to identify the students who posted images (that won’t be hard, since many identify themselves), and ETS will determine whether any test questions have been compromised. A few years ago, to save money, the state stopped funding random security inspections and electronic analysis of test results for irregularities. Under a deal reached with the State Board of Education in March, ETS is to resume these next year. However, districts remain obligated to report any problems with test-taking they spot.

Beside turning up images, a Twitter search for #cst offered insights into the minds of high school students during test week. At least most of those with accounts on Twitter are, to the say the least, not too enthusiastic about taking their subject tests. Many of the 140-character Tweets are unprintable in a family policy blog (not that anyone under 15 would be caught dead reading TOP-Ed), but I will share some of my favorites. My conclusions after reading them:

  • Don’t give high school subject tests unless they count for something for the students, such as part of their grade (the results would have to be in sooner than summer, however)
  • Don’t evaluate high school teachers on the subject test scores of their students; a significant minority isn’t taking them seriously. (Has anyone seen studies estimating this?)

I have placed replaced dashes in a few predictable places and left off surnames to protect the semi-innocent.  Some memorable Tweets:

Lando: just went to the bathroom and stood and the hand drier for like 10 min.

Jordan: I would like to take this time to thank all non-seniors for allowing me to wake late as fuuu for the past week and a half (don’t ask what fuuu means)

Arnie: Sometimes education in schools comes to a complete and utter stop.

Mitchell: You know ur f—ed when u get the sample question wrong … hahaha

Tammy: oh what? Daddy’s feeling generous just made me egg&cheese omelet with bacon and sausage and a side of #OrangeJuice for #CST woooot!

Caleb #CST = No Homework!:D

Jazmine: Yah! Tomorrow is the last #CST test! Stupid ass Science -.-

Stephanie: Does watching #TheBigBangTheory count as studying for my chemistry #CST I have tomorrow???

Nazaneen: “During a test; people look up for inspiration, down in desperation and left and right for information.”

New School: I hate the nerds that cover up their answers … Like come on, let’s work together bro

Willie: I feel like giving my bio teacher, Ms. Senegar a hug! This test was actually easy!

Author: John Fensterwald - Educated Guess

John Fensterwald, a journalist at the Silicon Valley Education Foundation, edits and co-writes "Thoughts on Public Education in California" (, one of the leading sources of California education policy reporting and opinion, which he founded in 2009. For 11 years before that, John wrote editorials for the Mercury News in San Jose, with a focus on education. He worked as a reporter, news editor and opinion editor for three newspapers in New Hampshire for two decades before receiving a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University in 1997 and heading West shortly thereafter. His wife is an elementary school teacher and his daughter attends the University California at Davis.

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