Problems with online portions of the Tennessee Ready state assessment happened last month, which caused Wilson County Schools to suspend online testing throughout the week.
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 board approved a resolution that would allow teachers to elect to use the 2016-2017 Tennessee Ready data for their performance level.
“For the 2019-2020 school year, teachers can elect to use the 2016-2017 data, or if the 2017-2018 data come in higher, they may elect to use that,” said Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright.
Wright said teachers without 2016-2017 Tennessee Ready data could elect to use their observation scores.
“We’re not afraid of evaluations, but we certainly need to get our state legislators to understand this is not working, and what can we do to work with them,” said board member Linda Armistead.
The district will also seek legal counsel in efforts to pursue a private act to be exempt from Tennessee Ready assessments in the future.
“We will propose another assessment, such as the ACT Aspire or another comparable assessment, that will provide reliable diagnostic data for grades 3-11, and will be reasonable in testing time and the number of testing areas,” said Wright, who said the district would aim to submit the private act before the 2019 legislative session.
Wright said the district could face a financial penalty of $3 million if it simply opted out of state testing, but an alternative assessment could allow quicker returns on results and be more reliable.
“We know what we’re doing. We may not look like it all the time, but we have a really good staff and leadership who know what’s best for Wilson County, and right now, ladies and gentlemen, what we’re getting from the State of Tennessee is not the best,” said board member Larry Tomlinson.
Board member Wayne McNeese said he would also like to see the district move from including Tennessee Ready results in a portion of teacher pay.
“I’d like to see us really make a push to get away from the merit-based,” McNeese said. “I could be wrong, but I think a lot of teachers would like that.”
Wright said there could be issues with the traditional step-salary schedule, including the possibility of several years before a pay increase.
“If we went back the other way, we would allow our teachers to do the thing they like doing – teach the kids. They don’t have to sweat the test. The kids don’t have to sweat the test. I think it’s something we need to take a serious look at,” McNeese said.
State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen explained the issues and answered questions from legislators during a joint hearing last month.
McQueen said the 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.
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 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.”