Hamilton County school board members dismayed by TNReady testing debacle

Hamilton County school board members dismayed by TNReady testing debacle

Tennessee General Assembly strikes deal ensuring students, teachers won't be penalized over testing problems

April 19th, 2018 by Meghan Mangrum in Breaking News

This story was updated April 19, 2018, at 11:38 p.m. with more information.

As news came down from Nashville that the Tennessee General Assembly had struck a deal Thursday that would ensure students, teachers and districts would not be held accountable for this year's TNReady results, Hamilton County school board members said they were disappointed in the testing process.

Hamilton County School officials confirmed Thursday that some schools and students experienced problems on the fourth day of testing.

"Is this what's best for our students? No. Is this what's best for our teachers? No," said board member Kathy Lennon, of District 2.

Board member Tiffanie Robinson of District 4 echoed Lennon's thoughts.

"The kids have been working their butts off," Robinson said. "It's so disappointing that this is the third year in a row we've been having these problems."

The Tennessean reported that the measure agreed upon by both chambers says test results this school year will only count if they benefit students, educators and districts. Districts also can't base employment or compensation decisions on the data, the legislation says.

"It was clear many members of the General Assembly wanted to address concerns related to the recent administration of state assessments," reads a statement emailed late Thursday afternoon by Sara Gast, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education. "The governor and Commissioner McQueen understand these concerns and did not oppose the legislation. We will fully support the implementation of the new law."

Candice McQueen

Candice McQueen

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

Board member Karitsa Mosley Jones, of District 5, noted that she had asked state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen last year if she was confident in the testing system. McQueen had said yes.

"I want to know today if she still feels confident in it," Jones said. "because clearly it's faulty."

Nine Hamilton County schools reported login issues Monday morning, during the first day of testing. On Tuesday, McQueen announced that department officials believed Questar had experienced a deliberate attack, and since then McQueen called on the Nashville District Attorney's Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and State Office of Homeland Security to investigate.

The district communicated with Questar, the state's vendor, about testing issues at The Howard School and Brainerd High School Thursday. Earlier this week, Questar representatives were called out to Sequoyah High School.

Shannon Moody, director of accountability and research for the district, said Questar representatives in Chattanooga are available when students experience problems

"When we have a team that is reporting issues, [or] that has had issues for a couple days, [we figure out] how we can deploy them to the school," she said.

Across the state, students had ongoing difficulties logging in to the online testing platform, Nextera, as well as issues submitting answers.

The Tennessean reported that Dickson County suspended testing Thursday, and other systems including the Lakeland School System in Shelby County, Rutherford County Schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools and Knox County Schools, reported scattered problems with tests.

Though Hamilton County Superintendent Bryan Johnson avoided highlighting major issues, he did say he wouldn't call this week's testing a success.

Johnson said the district understands the frustrations of students, teachers and parents.

"The technical issues and the learning of the platform is frustrating," Johnson acknowledged. "We are experiencing challenges just like everyone is ... my message always to principals is 'Let's remain focused' ... We empathize with our teachers and our kids, [and] our message is that this is a single indicator of student success."

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