Answer: They include “recompeting” the 2019-20 testing contract held by Questar and delaying the full rollout of online testing, as well as revisiting the current vendor’s contract for 2018-19.
At a news conference Thursday, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen announced steps to improve the state’s TNReady student assessment after ongoing conversations with teachers, parents, education leaders and policymakers over the past several weeks.
“Testing will look different next year. We won’t be doing as much online testing,” Kingsport Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse said. He and Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski attended a regional meeting with McQueen earlier this month in Knoxville to learn about about improving the testing.
McQueen said the multifaceted changes announced Thursday will improve the state assessment — under the umbrella of TNReady that encompasses standardized tests in grades 3-8 and high school end-of-course tests — and establish a longer-term framework for success.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PROBLEMS?
Issues with the process have included this year’s testing being halted temporarily because of an apparent hacking of the testing system, although state officials said no student data was compromised. Also, in some cases access to online testing was unavailable or slow. In past years, issues have included results being returned too late to be used as part of student grades.
The General Assembly passed a bill into law this year that says the spring 2018 test results could not hurt a student’s grade. In many systems, such as Sullivan County, they were not used at all, although in Kingpsort the results were checked upon request of parents or guardians but used only if they would improve a student’s grade.
WHAT ARE ANNOUNCED IMPROVEMENTS?
Three new steps being taken to improve TNReady are:
— Releasing a new request for proposals (RFP) to identify the assessment vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state test in 2019-20 and beyond. “The RFP will look for and prioritize vendors who have had success, particularly in administering a statewide test online, and it will strengthen the requirements for online administration based on what the department has learned over the past few years,” according to the Department of Education. “The RFP will also separate the core components of the testing program to allow different vendors to bid on different pieces depending on that company’s strengths.”
— Amending the state’s current contract and relationship with Questar to improve the assessment experience in 2018-19. “The department has transferred the test design and development portion of TNReady to ETS, which has successfully worked with Tennessee for several years. This transition will allow the management team at Questar to focus on administering and scoring the test,” according to DOE.
“Additionally, the department will propose amendments to the contract with Questar to further improve the assessment.This includes reducing a number of specific pricing components, adding performance indicators to better measure success and adding a number of steps Questar must take to improve readiness for online — such as a multistate stress test, a third-party review, providing crisis-level monitoring throughout the testing window and improving customer service.”
— Adjusting the pace of the state’s transition to online testing. “Tennessee is one of fewer than 10 states that still has a paper test in middle school — and both state and district leaders recognize that the workforce of the 21st century is increasingly online. We also want every student to have a positive testing experience, and we want to maximize the ability to have a seamless online administration. Accordingly, we are adjusting the timeline to continue the transition to online but at a modified pace. For 2018-19:
“Students in grades 3-8 will take TNReady on paper for math, English and social studies.
“Students in grades 3-4 will take their TNReady science test on paper, and students in grades 5-8 will take their science test online. Science is a field test in 2018-19 because the state is transitioning to new academic standards; therefore, the results will not count for students, teachers or schools, nor will any public scores be released. This provides an option for all students to experience the online platform and do so in an environment that is low-risk for them.
“Students in high school and those taking end-of-course exams will continue to test online.”
Also, the department will improve paper administration. In addition to having Tennessee teachers review all test questions, scripts and test forms, the department is streamlining test logistics to have fewer versions of the test distributed across the state. This makes it much easier on testing coordinators and proctors to administer. The state has also combined the answer document and test questions into one test booklet in lower grades so it is easier for students to take the test.
The state is continuing to identify other areas of improvement, including potential test reductions, and will share more information as those decisions are made. More information about TNReady and the state’s assessment program is posted online at TNReady.gov.