The Tennessee Department of Education may move to another vendor for online testing after two companies experienced major problems in administering the state’s TNReady student assessments.
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced several new steps Thursday to improve the tests, including finding a vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state tests in 2019-20 and beyond.
The changes follow ongoing conversations among teachers, parents, education leaders, and policy-makers over the past several weeks and are aimed at addressing a number of areas of concern.
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.
The changes announced Thursday are expected to immediately improve the state assessment, and establish a longer-term framework for success. The steps being taken to improve TNReady include:
- Releasing a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify the assessment vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state test in 2019-20 and beyond
- Amending the state’s current contract and relationship with Questar to improve the assessment experience in 2018-19
- Adjusting the pace of the state’s transition to online testing
Additional changes already were in the works, including eliminating two TNReady end-of-course exams, eliminating the March stand-alone field test for the next two years, simplifying and streamlining test administration, bringing in a third party to perform an independent review of Questar’s technological capabilities, improving customer service, and engaging dozens of additional Tennessee teachers, content experts, and testing coordinators to look at every part of the testing program.
“Teachers, students and families deserve a testing process they can have confidence in, and we are doing everything possible to meet that responsibility,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are always committed to listening and improving, and we’ll continue to do just that.”
The Education Department already has transferred the test design and development process to ETS, which administers standardized tests including the SAT and the GRE. Questar will focus on administering and scoring the test.
In addition, the state will adjust the timeline for converting from paper to online testing, with the goal to transition to online testing as soon as practical. Now, the tests will be administered as follows for 2018-19:
• Students in grades 3-8 will take TNReady on paper for math, English, and social studies.
• Students in grades 3-4 will take their TNReady science test on paper, and students in grades 5-8 will take their science test online. Science is a field test in 2018-19 because the state is transitioning to new academic standards; therefore, the results will not count for students, teachers, or schools, nor will any public scores be released. This provides an option for all students to experience the online platform and do so in an environment that is low-risk for them.
• Students in high school and those taking end-of-course exams will continue to test online.
TNReady is a high-quality assessment that is aligned to Tennessee’s rigorous academic expectations. In May, a national study recognized Tennessee as the No. 1 state in the country for improvement in the quality of its academic standards, going from an “F” rating in 2007 to an “A” in 2017. TNReady is designed to measure those standards, and it has a variety of different types of questions to look for the depth of students’ knowledge. All of those aspects of the test will not change, but according to the Education department, the RFP process will better ensure that students can take TNReady seamlessly and without disruption.