Latest TNReady test foul-up angers Tennessee legislators

Latest TNReady test foul-up angers Tennessee legislators

House Democrats demand three-year moratorium on using results to gauge students, teachers and school performance

October 19th, 2017 by Andy Sher in Breaking News

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has taken heat over the glitches found in some statewide standardized test results.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

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NASHVILLE — In the wake of Tennessee's latest foul-up on its TNReady tests, Tennessee House Democrats on Thursday called on Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to impose a three-year moratorium before using the exams' results to gauge students, teachers and school performance.

"I stand here today, two years later, to say TNReady is not ready," said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, during a news conference with other House Democratic leaders.

Education Department officials said last week they believe nearly 10,000 assessment tests across Tennessee were scored incorrectly by the state's vendor.

It was a fraction of the estimated 600,000 high school end-of-course tests. About 9,400 were scored incorrectly.

Three Hamilton County schools and three Bradley County schools were among those affected.

Late Thursday afternoon, McQueen spokeswoman Sara Gast said in a statement that all TNReady results have been fixed, noting they "have been finalized for the 0.1 percent of assessments where the performance level changed due to scoring issues caused by our vendor, Questar."

Parkinson earlier said it's only the latest in a series of "testing disasters" associated with the exams.

In the latest instance, state education officials revealed the 9,400 high school exams were incorrectly scored by the state's new vendor, Questar. Company officials blamed it on a failure involving updated software.

Department spokeswoman Gast said Questar "has taken full responsibility for the error and has correctly re-scored, at no cost to the state, the impacted assessments. We've had conversations with Questar to make sure they both understand the severity of the issue and understand the quality processes outlined in our contract must be followed for scanning and scoring programs."

The state has a $30 million-a-year, two-year contract with Questar, The Tennessean reported.

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Last year, Tennessee terminated its contract with Measurement Inc. after the North Carolina company's online platform fizzled in a number of districts, ultimately spurring a directive from McQueen that districts halt testing.

Then the state was forced to suspend testing for grades three through eight after the company was unable to get backup paper tests to a number of schools. The state then junked the contract with Measurement Inc.

Given all the problems, Parkinson told reporters, "I challenge Commissioner McQueen to grade herself."

Parkinson said it's bad enough the latest glitch impacts students. But he noted that student performance as measured by the exams also impacts teachers' pay and retention, schools and school districts.

Calling the department a "three-time loser," House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville demanded a "full investigation," saying the state should request a refund from Questar.

Parkinson was dismissive of the fact that only a small percentage of students and teachers were affected.

"Tell that to one of the victims of the small percentage," he said.

Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who is running for Democrats' 2018 gubernatorial nomination, said state education has been in a constant state of flux over the last eight years.

"This is not an isolated thing, beginning with how teachers are treated in this state," he said.

"There's just a point in time where we've got to make sure we don't have these mistakes after changing so many things over this last seven or eight years," Fitzhugh added. "And when things are supposed to be getting better, we have these terrible mistakes."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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This story was updated Oct. 19 at 11:59 p.m. with more information.


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