If You Cheat on the MCAS, Probably Don’t Tweet About It

The internet, it turns out, is visible to others.


Perhaps the most important lesson Massachusetts students will take away from their MCAS exam is that when they post things on the internet … other people can read them. It’s a favorite adage of ours, and we know this can be a confusing concept, but it is, in fact, how the internet works.

Our certainty aside, there is, apparently, some disagreement among the young’uns about this fact, as evidenced by a Boston Globe article that explains how the state’s Education Department monitors Twitter for potential cheaters during the statewide MCAS exams. Yep, some lonely Education Department employee checks the site for mentions of “MCAS”  sent during the testing hours that might expose students tweeting out the answers or even just revealing that they have a smartphone on them during the exam. This seems like a fairly impressive and tech-savvy attempt to keep the exam secure. But wait! Controversy! Here’s what one student has to say about the practice:

“I don’t think you have the right — your Twitter, your Instagram, your Facebook — it’s your private life,” she said. “I think if they have time to be doing that, they should find better things to do.”

Oh my. Oh my, my, my. What to say about this? Well, we’ll say that it’s just one small entry in the long, long list of occasions during which teenagers learn the hard way that the things they post into a public forum used by billions of people don’t actually classify as their “private life.” In this case, your tweet acts as a giant sign, viewable to half a billion people, that says “I have a calculator and also the entire internet at my disposal during this exam!” In more sobering circumstances  social media and the things party-goers posted on it have played a huge role in the Steubenville trial that found two high school football players guilty of rape this past week.

Nor is the Department of Education the first to realize that Twitter might be a useful tool for educators and administrators. There’s a scene in the recent This American Life episode about a Chicago high school (to which you should certainly devote two hours this weekend, no excuses) where teachers check Twitter to assess the likelihood that gang violence will break out at their homecoming weekend. We’re actually impressed with school systems that learn to leverage the web in this way.

And yet, people are confused. And not just young people. All people! The Awl’s Choire Sicha has written hilariously about this:

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you are on the Internet or not … This was true about LiveJournal for a long time. When you would link to a posting on LiveJournal, back in the day, you would get outraged emails about invasion of privacy. Because in their minds, they were just typing in their diary. That happened to be readable by others. Any others. On the Internet. Sometimes the youngs on Tumblr think they are not on the Internet, and also some members of Reddit think they are not on the Internet! And so there is a to-do.

So a lesson to the youngs of Massachusetts: Don’t use your smartphone to cheat on the MCAS. But, if you insist, it’s probably not a good idea to send a missive to the internet at large alerting them to your use of a smartphone during the exam you must pass to get your high school diploma. There are very few ways that a standardized exam like the MCAS tests a person’s “street smarts” but this, undoubtedly, is one of them.