Tuesday, February 25, 2020
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Tenn. online testing fails; state reverts to paper

Most of Tennessee’s 142 school districts will administer new standardized tests on paper this month because a network outage last month at the state’s testing vendor caused school officials to cancel the official debut of its online assessment, the Times Free Press reports.

George Clem School Historical Marker, Greeneville, Tenn. (Jimmy Emerson, DVM / Flickr Creative Commons)

“I had fourth-graders at my school halfway through writing their essays when they started getting locked out of the test,” the paper quoted Jill Levine, principal at Normal Park Museum Magnet School in Chattanooga as saying. “It was chaos.”

The test was delivered online last month through servers operated by Measurement Inc, based in Durham, North Carolina, which had developed the online delivery system. State officials immediately fell back to a contingency plan and started printing test booklets. As of our publication date, all but about a dozen of the school districts that were unable to complete the tests online had received the printed test materials.

The new test, called TNReady, replaced the former TCAP tests. TNReady was designed to be taken online, and it has generated no shortage of criticism from teachers and administrators who say the amount of preparation required for students—just to learn how to take the test online—took too much time away from instruction.

“The travesty is not so much that we’ve lost millions of dollars creating a test we can’t even take, but more importantly, we’ve robbed children of hours and hours of instructional time, as we are required to prepare them for this online test that is not even happening,” Ms Levine was quoted as saying.

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen got a letter on January 31, a few days after the technical glitch, from Ravi Gupta, the CEO of RePublic charter school, in which he outlined what happened:

… Our experience on January 28, however, raised substantial concerns about the technical capacity of MIST [Measurement Incorporated Secure Testing platform] to support state-wide testing. RePublic has only 1,200 kids—a tiny fraction of the State’s 500,000. On January 28, we attempted to administer the Math practice test on MIST as a step toward preparing kids for the first round of state exams. More than half of our kids were unable to log on, were kicked off the platform after logging on, or could not submit a completed test. The critical issue, confirmed by MIST representatives, was an error or series of errors on MIST’s own servers.

The same day, we spoke to the Deputy Director of Assessment Logistics of TNDOE in an effort to resolve these problems. He gave us advice that, if followed, would result in a catastrophic loss of instructional time for our students. He recommended blocking off all four weeks of the testing window to administer one subject test per week to compensate for the fact that we could not count on MIST to perform its function. He recommended that we administer the [English Language Arts exam], for example, on a Monday and, if the servers crashed, administer the same test on Tuesday. And, if the servers crashed again on Tuesday, we administer the same test on Wednesday—and so on for the full week with the expectation that after a week of trying all kids should be able to successfully sit for the exam. The next week, he recommended repeating the process with the next subject.

Ms McQueen issued a written statement about the online testing glitch, saying in part, “Moving forward, during the 2015-16 school year TNReady will be administered via paper and pencil (both Part I and Part II).”

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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