Student-testing firm defends itself after computer glitches

Sheila Burke, Associated Press | 2/10/2016, 12:08 p.m.
Company’s president says the state made the decision to scrap the online testing of TNReady even though a server overload ...

NASHVILLE – A student-testing company's president defended his firm Tuesday after Tennessee's education commissioner said she no longer had confidence in its ability to administer a new academic assessment test online.

On Monday, state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen ordered that students take the test, known as TNReady, using pencil and paper instead of online. This came after the test's rollout proved disastrous, with students across the state unable to take it because of a computer networking failure, which state officials described as not being able to access the Internet.

McQueen said she still believes in the test itself and said online testing is the future.

Henry H. Scherich, president of North Carolina-based Measurement Inc., which developed TNReady, issued a statement Tuesday saying he was disappointed with the state for its decision to suspend online testing.

He said the problems Monday were due to computer server issues that prevented some students from logging into the company's online system. The state made the decision to scrap the online testing even though the server overload problem has been corrected, he said.

The company administered more than 2 million tests last year and provides testing for state education departments in Michigan, Utah and Connecticut, Scherich said.

"MI is now moving as quickly as possible to get the assessments printed, packaged and shipped as directed by the Department of Education," he said. "It always has been and will continue to be our goal to work with the Department of Education to provide the students and educators of Tennessee with an outstanding assessment program."

Scherich noted that 19,720 students were able to complete the test online Monday. Tennessee education officials say 48,000 students started the test but could not complete it because of network failures.

The state awarded the company with a contract of more than $107 million for work from 2015 to 2020. McQueen said that, so far, the state has paid the company only $1.6 million and will not pay any extra money as a result of the online failures.

TNReady evaluates math and English skills for grades 3-11. It replaces the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, known as TCAP. McQueen and others say the new test does a better job of assessing critical-thinking skills.

School officials say the delays have been frustrating. Questions also remain about how teachers will be evaluated. State law says school districts can evaluate teachers based on 10 percent of the TNReady scores and the weight of the test will gradually increase each year in decisions about teacher pay, firing and placement.

"Any time there's a glitch in test administration — because there's such high stakes — that's worrisome," said Wayne Miller, executive director of the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. State law gives local districts discretion on how they want to interpret the TNReady scores.