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Tennessee Ditches Online Standardized Testing After 'Massive Outage' In First Hour

Most schools in Tennessee had to make network upgrades and buy more computers to accomodate online testing.
Phil Manker
via Flickr
Most schools in Tennessee had to make network upgrades and buy more computers to accomodate online testing.

Hear the radio version of this story.

Updated 5:30 p.m.

The long-awaited changeover to computer-based standardized testing in Tennessee won't happen this year.

"Like you, we are incredibly disappointed," Tennessee education commissioner Candice McQueen wrote to superintendents around the state.

In an email, McQueen told administrators that Monday's system failure caused her to lose confidence in the system operated by an outside vendor. Students will revert to pencil-and-paper tests this year, previously described as a "worst case scenario."

Unfortunately, issues have continued to arise with the online platform. The new nature of the issue this morning has highlighted the uncertainly around the stability of Measurement Inc.’s testing platform, MIST. Despite the many improvements the department has helped to make to the system in recent months and based on the events of this morning, we are not confident in the system’s ability to perform consistently. In the best interest of our students and to protect instructional time, we cannot continue with Measurement Incoporated’s online testing platform in its current state. — Candice McQueen

Reported earlier:

This was not how Tennessee education officials hoped the first day for online testing would go. What is described as a "major outage" occurred at 8:25 a.m. Monday just as many students logged on, leading the state to suspend testing until further notice.

Tennessee education officials blamed their vendor.

"We are urgently working with Measurement Inc. to identify the causes and correct the problem. At this time, we are advising that schools experiencing problems with the test discontinue testing, and return to their normal classes," Education Commissioner Candice McQueen told superintendents in an email.

In Metro Nashville Public Schools, spokesman Joe Bass said a half dozen principals reported testing trouble. Only about 20 schools were scheduled to start taking the new TNReady since the testing window runs until early March.

Rutherford County Schools sent a statement to parents, telling them testing had to be suspended and pointing the finger at "a technology failure at the state level." Districts had been warned by state officials to make sure their own Wi-fi networks weren't going to be the problem.

School leaders have voiced concerns about just this kind of thing happening. That's why Williamson County Schools delayed the start of testing by several days.

At the end of January, the 1,000 students at Republic charter schools in Nashville took a practice test on the new system. And it crashed.

Founder Ravi Gupta sent a letter to state officials, who responded by saying the problem was fixed. But after Monday's system failure, Gupta says he’d prefer to just use the backup pencil-and-paper version.

"As much as we believe in this test and how much of an improvement it is on previous tests, we can't in good conscience sacrifice that much instructional time to just keep trying a test on a platform that just should have been designed better," Gupta says.

It's unclear whether individual schools will be able to make their own decisions at this point. Metro schools officials have said they plan to stick with the online platform.

There are a lot of we-told-you-so kind of statements coming out now. The Tennessee Education Association calls the system problems "unacceptable," considering the "stress and anxiety" that already surround the high-stakes assessments. The union is reiterating its call for this year's scores to not be held against teachers, who are now judged — in part — on test results.

"It is unfair and inappropriate to stake our teachers' professional standing on flawed, unreliable test scores in any year," TEA president Barbara Gray said in a written statement. "But there are even greater implications and uncertainty while implementing a new assessment."

Copyright 2016 WPLN News

Blake Farmer is WPLN's assistant news director, but he wears many hats - reporter, editor and host. He covers the Tennessee state capitol while also keeping an eye on Fort Campbell and business trends, frequently contributing to national programs. Born in Tennessee and educated in Texas, Blake has called Nashville home for most of his life.
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