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VOL. 42 | NO. 16 | Friday, April 20, 2018
Tennessee lawmakers scramble to pass fix to testing problems
NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers scrambled to pass legislation Thursday to make sure no students, teachers or schools suffer as a result of repeated failures with the state assessment test.
The legislation was passed quickly by both the Senate and House after complaints by lawmakers that students in their districts were still having trouble taking the test known as TNReady.
House lawmakers fumed and some threatened to hold up passage of the $37.5 billion budget until they could pass a legislative fix. Much of the anger came because lawmakers kept getting text and email messages about problems after it was supposed to have been fixed. Legislators also complained of issues with the testing for the past several years.
This came a day after state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen was grilled by lawmakers about the TNReady test and the Minnesota-based vendor that administers it online.
A spokesman and lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association said he was pleased legislators were able to find a way to hold teachers, schools and students harmless as a result of the latest testing problems.
"Lawmakers were hearing from their districts," TEA spokesman Jim Wrye said. "They were hearing from teachers, from parents, from administrators that there were tremendous problems in the testing system, and it was starting to spiral out of control — for student morale, for a variety of things. And so the validity of the entire testing system was coming into question."
State education officials have said that there appeared to have been a cyberattack on the computer system used by Questar Assessment Inc., which administers the online test.
McQueen has asked Nashville's district attorney to formally request that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and state Office of Homeland Security investigate the suspected hack. She has maintained there is no evidence that any student data or information has been compromised.
Her office issued a statement saying McQueen and Gov. Bill Haslam understand the concerns about the test and both will fully support implementation of the measure after it is signed into law.
Students, teachers and schools are partially evaluated based on the TNReady test. Several lawmakers said the test scores could not be trusted.
Both the House and Senate agreed that local school boards could decide to ignore assessment scores when they come back. However, lawmakers said that if school boards do decide to use test scores, the assessment will count only a maximum of 15 percent toward a student's final grades.
Schools are now given letter grades of A-F to help parents evaluate how well they are serving students. The measure that was written and passed Thursday says test scores from the current school year should not go toward any school's letter grade.
The legislation also says that none of the test scores from this current school year will factor into deciding whether the school is a "priority school," which are among the bottom 5 percent. However, if the scores look good, schools could use them to get off the list of the lowest performers.
The test scores could also not be used to make decisions about hiring or compensating teachers.
In 2016, the state canceled its five-year $108 million contract with a testing company because of repeated failures, including the inability of students to get online to take the tests and later with problems getting paper assessments shipped to schools on time.
Last year, state officials announced that nearly 10,000 of the tests were scored incorrectly.