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State Education Department pledges immediate steps to address online testing problems

State Education Department pledges immediate steps to address online testing problems

The Tennessee Department of Education plans to continue feedback sessions with educators and parents during the summer, as well as regional meetings with school directors and assessment coordinators after problems resurfaced this spring when districts attempted to conduct TNReady tests online.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen pledged to take immediate steps to improve the assessment system, including moving the design work for all of Tennessee’s statewide tests, including math and English language arts, to one partner: ETS of Princeton, New Jersey, which administers the SAT, among other standardized tests.

Questar was hired as the contractor for the state’s online tests following the dismissal of Measurement, Inc., following extensive problems statewide in 2016.

But this past spring, Questar had its own string of technical problems that began on the very first day of TNReady testing on April 16, including slowdowns, difficulties logging on, and problems reportedly resulting from a cyber attack and a cut fiber optic cable.

After the problems, the Legislature directed the Education Department to hold teachers, students, and schools harmless from adverse action based on this year’s testing results.

According to a list of improvements posted on the Education Department Web site, Questar will administer and score the tests, which ETS will design.

“Test design is complex and sophisticated, and we believe the expertise and years of experience ETS brings is more suited to our needs in Tennessee,” the Web site noted.

“For our online assessments, we will engage a third-party expert to serve as an external consultant to conduct a review of all Questar technology systems. We will implement a large-scale stress test to verify the capacity of Questar’s systems.”

In addition to the consultant, the department will have someone focused solely on the student and educator experience who will provide additional support before, during, and after test administration.

“Students should be able to show what they know in a way that is as seamless and non-stressful as possible, and then get feedback and support based on how they are doing in their big-picture progress toward college and workforce readiness.”

Jamie Woodson, CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), said the action was welcome, and a statewide assessment with the ability to return timely data is important.

“Statewide assessment is just one measure of student success, but its unique strengths include objectivity; results that can be compared across students, schools, and the state; and an annual learning growth measure for every student in grades 3-11,” Woodson wrote, in reaction to the state’s announcement.

She said the standardized tests help all Tennesseans understand the gaps in learning and achievement for different groups of students, and helps focus support for historically underserved students. The tests also help parents, policymakers, and taxpayers hold our public education system accountable for serving all students well.

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