It’s become a not-so-funny rendition of Groundhog Day. The state of Tennessee rolls out a new testing platform and it flops, leaving students, teachers, administrators, parents and taxpayers frustrated and angry.
Tennessee’s latest foray into online testing had significant glitches on days one and two of the testing window.
Monday, an incompatibility with the log-in for TNReady and the Classroom Assessment Builder prevented students from logging in.
Tuesday, the system shut down after it detected what state education officials said appeared to be a “deliberate attack.” This left students unable to save their work. The state’s solution? Mark which computer the student was using and try to submit their test later.
By day three, the state reported things were running smoothly, but the incidents give the state’s standardized testing program another black eye.
Two years ago, the state had decided everyone would complete their annual assessments online. On the first day of statewide testing, the testing company’s servers crashed. The Tennessee Department of Education suspended testing until paper tests could be printed and delivered to all school districts for grades 3-8. The vendor, Measurement, Inc., failed to deliver in time for testing to be completed that year and the test was scrapped for elementary students.
Last year, most tests were completed on paper, but that didn’t stop the problems. Delays in scanning the tests meant that many school systems — including Cumberland County — had to delay grade cards for high school students. Cumberland County had included scores on required end-of-course tests in the final grades of high school students in the first semester. School officials cited fairness in holding high school grades until those scores could come back — weeks after the school year ended.
Then, it was learned that some tests had been incorrectly graded and some scores assigned to the wrong teacher.
TNReady is designed to measure student proficiency in math and language arts for grades 3-11. The test measures performance on more rigorous academic standards. The state also changed the cutoff scores for what would determine if students have mastered their grade level, are on grade level, approaching grade level or below grade level.
These tests are used to determine if schools are doing their jobs in helping students learn the things the state has determined they should know at each grade level. They’re also used as part of teacher evaluations of effectiveness. When received in a timely manner, they also make up a portion of a student’s final grade and must be passed for high school students to earn their diploma.
Those are high stakes and a lot of pressure sitting on some pretty small shoulders.
Yet the dysfunction with which the testing season began left our students, teachers and parents frustrated. Schedules have had to be adjusted and some students walked away wondering if they’d lose all their work and have to start all over. How well do you think they did on day three when, at least according to state officials, things were finally running smoothly?
Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen was called before the Tennessee General Assembly Thursday to tell them just what went wrong.
The state has extended the online testing window by three days but continues to caution schools about how important it is to complete the test in a timely manner.
Some lawmakers have called for her resignation. Other lawmakers have already introduced legislation to mandate test results not be part of school accountability or student grades this year and to scrap online testing with paper-only testing.
Education associations and organizations have weighed in on the issue, saying that students and teachers often bear the brunt of testing problems.
These high-stake tests have become the be-all, end-all of student performance data, yet each test is taken on one day. While it may show what a student has learned during the past year, it is but a snapshot of one particular day. Student performance could vary due to a multitude of reasons — many of which have nothing to do with how much they’ve learned this year.
Across the state, parents bemoan how schools spend all their time preparing for a test instead of ensuring students are getting a robust education and learning to love learning. Yet our state has tied everything from a teacher’s ability to keep their job to a community’s ability to retain control of their schools to how students perform on any particular testing day each year. Our schools are held hostage by testing, and the testing just isn’t working.