Severed fiber optic cable causes latest TNReady testing trouble

Hamilton County school officials say more than half of scheduled testing has been completed

Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen spoke to the editorial board of the Chattanooga Times Free Press at the newspaper's office on March 7, 2017. Sara Gast, director of strategic communication and chief of staff, listens in the background.

Some school districts across the state experienced issues with TNReady testing again Thursday after a fiber optic cable that delivers internet from Atlanta to Nashville was severed.

"The telecommunications industry has confirmed the main fiber cable between Nashville and Atlanta has been cut," a spokesperson for the Tennessee Department of Education said in an email to district leaders Thursday morning. "Telecommunication vendors are reaching out and calling impacted districts directly, and we will continue to keep you posted as we learn more from them."

photo In this March 15, 2018, staff file photo, Dr. T. Nakia Towns Edwards, Hamilton County Schools chief of staff, speaks to staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The department advised districts to continue testing, but that connectivity could be slow.

Despite Thursday's problems, Hamilton County Schools officials said more than half of scheduled testing has been completed in the district.

Hamilton County also left it up to individual schools to decide if they wanted to continue testing today.

"At around 10 a.m. [Thursday] morning, Shannon Moody, our Director of Accountability and Research, notified schools that we have received notice from the state department regarding a fiber optic cable being damaged in middle Tennessee," said Nakia Towns Edwards, the district's chief of staff, in an email. " Schools had the flexibility to determine if they wanted to continue their schedule for [Thursday] after lunch or wait until [Friday] to resume."

At least 38 schools in Hamilton County are testing via Nextera, the online testing platform. Last week, several Hamilton County schools, along with dozens statewide, reported issues with students being able to log in and submit completed assessments.

Questar, the state's vendor that manages Nextera, experienced a potentially deliberate cyber attack on April 17, state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said.

The attack and subsequent halt in testing led to McQueen reaching out to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the office of Homeland Security to investigate the attack.

Concerns about the impact on student performance and results led state lawmakers to address the issue. Two pieces of legislation have since been passed - the latest one passed Wednesday - which will prevent students, teachers, schools and districts from being penalized because of the testing issues.

Starting in third grade, students take these yearly assessments in a variety of subjects including English language arts, math, science and social studies to measure their performance, which is then tracked and used to gauge both teacher effectiveness and achievement across schools and districts.

Towns Edwards said most schools conduct their tests each day in the morning, especially at high schools where some testing begins as early as 7:30 a.m.

Almost 60,000 test sessions are scheduled in Hamilton County for this spring's assessment window, which opened April 16. Nearly 35,000 of those have been completed, Towns Edwards said.

Districts have until May 9 to complete all online testing, a time frame that was extended after last week's rocky start to testing.

Superintendent Bryan Johnson and Hamilton County district officials have repeatedly encouraged students and teachers to persevere during the testing cycle, acknowledging frustrations and emphasizing that assessments are one of various indicators of student success.



  • April 16: TNReady testing window opens; students experience issues logging in and submitting answers

  • April 17: State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announces that the testing vendor might have experienced a cyber attack; lawmakers propose legislation to prevent students, teachers and schools from being held accountable for results

  • April 18: McQueen officially asks the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the State Office of Homeland Security to investigate the attack; she also announces that the department will have a third party investigate the vendor

  • April 19: Lawmakers hurriedly add TNReady protection provisions to an already-passed bill to hold teachers and students harmless from this year's state results; Hamilton County school board members express disappointment in the state at the regularly scheduled school board meeting

  • April 25: Lawmakers pass a new bill to prevent testing fiasco from influencing teacher evaluations, a move first championed in the Tennessee House; Republicans call for a state review of TNReady

  • April 26: A severed fiber optic cable halts testing in many areas of the state - Knox County and Collierville Schools suspend testing, Shelby and Hamilton County reports issues


Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.