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FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2014 file photo, Candice McQueen, of Lipscomb University, makes a presentation at Tennessee's Education Summit in Nashville, Tenn. McQueen, now Tennessee's education commissioner, recently launched a statewide effort to visit with 10,000 teachers by the end of the 2015-16 school year. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
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Kirk Kelly, director of testing and accountability for Hamilton County Schools

Tennessee students who have been preparing to take this year's standardized assessment online will return to using paper and pencil.

Schools across the state, including many in Hamilton County, attempted to log on to the testing site Monday morning only to find it not working.

"I had fourth-graders at my school halfway through writing their essays when they started getting locked out of the test," said Jill Levine, principal at Normal Park Museum Magnet School. "It was chaos."

Because of the statewide technical glitches, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen sent an email to school district leaders Monday around 5:30 p.m., saying the problems were with the testing platform created by Measurement Inc., the company that developed TNReady.

"Despite the many improvements the department has helped to make to the system in recent months, and based on the events of [Monday] morning, we are not confident in the system's ability to perform consistently," McQueen said in the email. "In the best interest of our students and to protect instructional time, we cannot continue with Measurement Inc.'s online testing platform in its current state."

Measurement Inc. is currently scheduling the printing and shipping of paper tests at no cost to school districts. The new testing schedule will be available by Thursday.

This was the inaugural year for the state's new assessment, TNReady, a revision of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, known as TCAP. The new test, created to be taken online, has generated criticism from local educators who say the extensive preparation required for it robbed students of educational time and is another unfunded mandate from the state.

"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," Levine said.

Justin Robertson, principal at Red Bank High School, said all of the changes in TNReady this year make him question the validity and reliability of the test. He thinks it will be hard to convince students to take the assessment seriously after all the changes.

Since Red Bank High School is on a block schedule, some students took a portion of TNReady's test online in the fall, and now many of their peers will be taking it with pencil and paper, which he thinks could influence test scores.

"To me, there is no way to compare this," Robertson said. "It's going to put [our school] at a disadvantage."

Dan Liner, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, said the change in testing format means teachers' final evaluations will be based on unreliable data because of testing irregularity. He said it is imperative the Hamilton County school board ask McQueen to issue a one-year moratorium on using test data to measure teacher effectiveness.

"The rollout of the new TNReady assessments has been a dismal failure," Liner said. "Just last Friday, Commissioner Candice McQueen assured directors of schools and testing coordinators that testing would proceed with no glitches."

Before testing Monday, more than 100 families in Hamilton County elected to opt out in protest of TNReady.

Heather DeGaetano, a parent who chose to opt her child out of testing, called the decision to move to a paper-and-pencil test "a victory in a longer war."

She said having the test this year on paper and pencil solves many of the fairness and equity issues that concerned her about the test being taken in a computerized setting, but until the overall amount of time testing is reduced, she plans to opt her child out of testing.

"If we could get reassurance from the state on that and reducing overall testing time, I'd happy to opt back in and move forward together," DeGaetano said.

In preparation for online testing, the Hamilton County Department of Education has been working for years to improve the district's infrastructure and network, along with schools and the school board purchasing additional devices for schools, according to Kirk Kelly, assistant superintendent of testing and accountability.

Kelly said though the district has worked hard to prepare for online testing, he is confident principals will be able to help their schools prepare for the paper-and-pencil tests.

"This is a format we are familiar with," Kelly said.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.

This story was updated Feb. 8 at 11:30 p.m. with additional information.

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