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Tennessee Ready testing issues persist

Xavier Smith • Apr 19, 2018 at 3:46 PM

Problems with the Tennessee Ready online assessment continued Thursday, one day after state lawmakers questioned Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen following two days of Tennessee Ready issues throughout the state.

Several districts throughout the state, including Wilson County Schools and Lebanon Special School District, reported issues with the online portion of the Tennessee Ready assessment, similar to issues highlighted earlier in the week.

Lebanon Director of Schools Scott Benson said school officials experienced issues with the exam Thursday after a smooth start to testing. Jennifer Johnson, Wilson County Schools spokesperson, said the district experienced minor issues Thursday morning that were solved.

Problems with online portions of the Tennessee Ready state assessment started Monday and continued Tuesday morning, which caused Wilson County Schools and Lebanon Special School District to suspend online testing for the second straight day.

Wilson County Schools suspended online testing in sixth through 12th grades at about 10 a.m. Students in third through fifth grades were not impacted because their exams were taken with paper and pencil.

The district faced similar issues Monday morning, the first scheduled day for testing, which caused officials to suspend testing. Tuesday was the first day of testing in the Lebanon Special School District.

McQueen explained the issues and answered questions from legislators during a joint hearing Wednesday.

McQueen said Monday’s issues were due to a conflict between the Classroom Assessment Builder and the test delivery system, which previously shared the same login system, causing unacceptable login delays for some students when they tried to access Tennessee Ready. She said evidence suggested the assessment administrator, Questar, and its data center experienced a cyber attack Tuesday from an external source, which caused the second day of delays.

“I want to first personally apologize to all of our teachers, our students, our parents and district and school staff who have been handling these issues with great patience and grace and a positive attitude over these last couple of days,” McQueen said.

McQueen said there is no evidence at this time that student data or information was compromised, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation does not currently have a criminal investigation underway into Tuesday’s incident, although representatives said they would be willing to perform one.

Legislators from both political parties were critical of McQueen, Questar and the continued failures of the state assessment.

Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, asked McQueen why she felt she shouldn’t resign after the department continued to fail educators and students.

“After months and months and months into years of failures, your department has failed. It’s time for you to resign and step aside and let somebody else come in and try their hand,” Stewart said. “It’s not a comment on you as a person, but as a manager, you have been unable to get control of this problem, and I think you should explain to this committee why you should the person going forward to even address it.”

“The investigation continues from Questar. We are identifying – with the TBI as a partner – a third party, an external party, that Questar has agreed to come in,” McQueen said. “There are all kinds of rules around procurement on what that third party looks like, and so that can’t be done in an hour, or two hours or since [5 p.m. Tuesday].”

The questioning and criticism continued for almost two hours, as several legislators expressed their frustrations with the situation.

“We have some pretty tough guidelines for our teachers, especially when it comes to testing. Matter of fact, committee, if there is a breach while a teacher is proctoring a test, she can be severely dealt with from the Department of Education. It’s no joke. For several years now, there’s been a problem, and I feel like we are wanting and forcing to hold our teachers accountability, all the while I don’t k now that we’re really holding ourselves accountable,” said Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby. “There are an immense amount of circumstances that surround taking the test on that side, but I feel like we don’t offer very many excuses for that side, but year after year we’re offering excuses for our side.”

Rep. Shelia Butt, R-Columbia, said based on testing failures, she felt this year’s exam could not accurately measure a student’s growth or a teacher’s ability.

“I am asking you as a department, when we get ready to make some changes for what’s going to count toward teachers, students and school scores, that you will understand that this year is not going to be a good indication of what our students have learned, what our teachers have taught or what that school can do,” Butt said.

“It’s an unfair stress to put on children that are already stressed out. A lot of times I think we forget just how stressed these babies are, and just how much our education system is focusing a little too much on testing. I believe in standardized tests because you have to have a measure of success, but at the same time, these children, these teachers, these administrators, these principals have done what they’re supposed to do, and to have a test failure like this is ridiculous,” said Rep. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis.

This year’s problems follow a series of issues that surrounded the Tennessee Ready exam and its implementation, including last year, which saw more than 9,000 exams scored incorrectly by exam vendor Questar Assessment. .

Students in third through eighth grades were unable to take the exam the previous year, as the previous state exam assessor failed to launch an online test and was unable to deliver testing materials to districts in time.

The delays and miscues prompted parents and administrators to question the reliability of the state assessment, as well as the impact it has on students and educators.

The inconsistency prompted Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright to declare the 2015-2016 school year a hold harmless year for Tennessee Ready scores in the district.

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