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Pearson and Its Palm Scan (and More)

March 16, 2015

As the “stakes” in “high stakes testing” increase, then the imposition of testing company rights over the rights of the individual will increase. (Educational blogger Anthony Cody addresses this idea in his March 15, 2015, post entitled, High Stakes Testing makes Surveillance Necessary.)

Let us consider how Pearson is guaranteeing the security of its product, the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE Academic).

Here is a description of PTE Academic from the website:

PTE Academic is a computer-based test which assesses the Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing abilities of non-native speakers of English who need to demonstrate their academic English capability — often to obtain places at English-speaking universities, higher education institutions or as proof of their language ability for a visa application.

PTE Academic is endorsed by, and the preferred test of GMAC® — the owners of the Graduate Management Admission Test® (GMAT®). The test is recognized by universities and colleges worldwide and is officially approved by the UK Border Agency for Tiers 1, 2 and 4 visa applications.

So, the PTE Academic is related to the high-stakes outcomes of American and other English-speaking university admission, and to the obtaining of visas for entrance into English-speaking countries.

The PTE Academic test takers are typically 16 or 17 years old, an age generally considered internationally to be that of minors. Thus, to ensure it has a solid-legally-binding PTE Academic test-taker contract, Pearson must have a written agreement from the parents or guardians of these minor-aged test takers.

Here is a copy of that agreement (click on image to enlarge):

PTE app

So that it is easy to view, I have the verbatim text of what parents and guardians of minors taking the PTE Academic are agreeing to by signing the form:

I am the parent / legal guardian of the above named PTE Academic test taker, who is aged either 16 or 17 years old and wishes to take the Pearson Test of English Academic. I understand and acknowledge that all individuals planning to take PTE Academic are required to agree to all of the terms and conditions contained in the PTE Academic Test Taker Handbook (available to download at and that these terms and conditions are legally binding.

In my capacity as the parent / legal guardian of the PTE Academic test taker:

1. I hereby authorize the PTE Academic test taker to take PTE Academic.

2. I confirm that I have carefully reviewed the PTE Academic Test Taker Handbook, including, but not limited to, those provisions relating to testing, score cancellations, privacy policies, and the collection, processing, use and transmission to the United States of the PTE Academic test taker’s personally identifiable data (including the digital photograph, fingerprint, signature, palm-vein scan, and audio/video recording collected at the test centre) and disclosure of such data to Pearson Language Tests, its service providers, any score recipients the PTE Academic test taker selects, and others as necessary to prevent unlawful activity or as required by law.

3. I consent to, and agree that the PTE Academic test taker will comply with and be bound by, all of the terms and conditions in the PTE Academic Test Taker Handbook. [Emphasis added.]

Here is the “biometrics” language Pearson uses in the English version of the PTEA Test Taker Handbook referenced in the contract:

What to expect on the day of your test: Biometrics: Because of the nature of the tests delivered at Pearson test centers, test taker photographs and biometrics will be collected. Biometrics may include, but are not limited to: electronic signature capture and palm vein scanning.

All of this “security” reads like PTE test-taking minors are seeking restricted access to the Pentagon.

One might also think that Pearson has assumed the role of Border Control.

But no, this 1) fingerprinting, 2) palm-vein-scanning, and/or 3) voice/visage recording is for a test of English language ability for non-native-English-speaking minors who are likely seeking to study abroad.

Notice also in the above contract the loosely-defined language about Pearson’s sharing this information “as necessary to prevent unlawful activity.” One issue of note is that Pearson cannot vouch for the privacy policies of third parties that it “engages” to “process” test taker personal information. Here is a disclaimer excerpt from the Pearson PTE Privacy Policy:

NCS Pearson may engage other third parties who will process your data, such us the organizations that run the test centers where you will go and take your test, which we call “third party testing centers”. These centers may also provide unrelated services and may collect and use personal data for other purposes under different terms and policies.

In short, Pearson requires this personal information from its PTE Academic test takers and promises to use it appropriately, but it also states that the process involves others outside of Pearson and its privacy policy.


If the “stakes” of “high stakes testing” continue to increase in American classrooms by way of ever-increasing focus on testing at the expense of any non-tested educational experiences, then yes, America, we could well be required to up the ante on protecting testing by ever-increasing surrender of information that most individuals never before considered divulging to corporate entities.



Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.


  1. Reblogged this on stopcommoncorenys.

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    The devil is clearly in the detail.
    Many of us are becoming disinterested in reading the “invitations” to read privacy policies, primarily because these policies do not have an opt out…agree or don’t use the service. Or, they require you to contact the company. The presumption of a right to “do as I please with your data” is there in writing.

    So, spending any time in reading the fine print often seems pointless.

    The risk management and data mining protections for “the provider” of any mandated service, including tests, will probably increase– limited only by the degree to which the techniques of surveillance interfere with profits

    I am also noting that the corporations are shifting all responsibility for security of private information to customers, not more security in their own operations.

    I think your analogy for clearances at the highest level of national security are apt, scary, and brave-new-world directions.

    I just wonder why the old fashioned fingerprint is not good enough any more, or scanning the iris of the eye, or a cotton swab in the mouth for some genetic markers for each applicant, or voice-prints, or…or…or.

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Sudden recall. My brother worked on top secret defense contracts for many years, and was chronically harassed because he was a US citizen but born in Cuba. He once remarked that the highest level of security and surveillance he ever encountered was on a visit to the Mattel toy company.

  4. Look into “BOSS” — Behaviorial Observation of Students In Schools

    You can find it here:

  5. Oh how sad! When our children become “products of Pearson” and those to whom they choose to sell them to, what has our country become?? All of this is about how the testing companies – Pearson in particular – can and will make money. As I understand it, a student is “damned if they do” take the test because their privacy is gone and sold, or “damned if they don’t” take it because it will prevent them from continuing their education in the US, the greatest democracy in the world?????

  6. This is crazy and hard to believe, but it’s almost not surprising. They’re literally doing palm readings now.

  7. Ann Gray permalink

    When your “biometric data” is stolen, it’s a little hard to replace with a new one. Just sayin’…

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