Hawkins avoided most of 2018 TNReady glitches by reverting to pencil and paper

Jeff Bobo • Dec 28, 2018 at 2:06 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Some Hawkins County high school students who took TNReady tests online this spring experienced long wait times and other issues outlined in a recently released Tennessee Comptroller audit.

However, Hawkins County avoided the lion’s share of the TNReady technical problems experienced statewide by reverting to pencil and paper tests for grades 3-8.

Interim Director of Schools Reba Bailey, who was testing supervisor last April, noted that during the 2017-2018 school year, districts were given the option to take the TNReady Assessments online or by paper and pencil.

Hawkins County chose the latter option for grades 3-8 because of the online issues that occurred the prior year when testing was suspended across the state.

High school students took the TNReady online during the spring of 2018 because they had taken the EOC (end-of-course) TNReady assessments online during the fall of 2017.

“Fewer students tested online during the fall of 2017, and we did not experience many issues during that time,” Bailey added. “During the spring 2018 testing, we experienced some of the issues outlined in the audit report. For example, there were long wait times to receive assistance from Questar, and at times students were unable to log into the assessment.”

The Comptroller’s Office has released a performance audit of the Tennessee Department of Education detailing many of the problems that led up to the difficulties in executing the spring 2018 TNReady tests.

The online student assessment tests were plagued with numerous issues including login delays, slow servers and software bugs. The first signs of trouble began on April 16, 2018 and continued through the end of the month.

Auditors determined that many of these issues occurred primarily because of Questar Assessment, Inc’s performance and updates to the student assessment system. Auditors also found the Department of Education’s oversight of test administration fell short of expectations.

The performance audit’s nine findings include five issues surrounding TNReady. These findings include:

• The department’s lack of sufficient, detailed information on its Work Plan with Questar rendered it less effective as a monitoring tool to ensure Questar met all deadlines.

• Questar’s decision to make an unauthorized change to text-to-speech software without formally notifying the department contributed to the online testing disruptions.

• Questar’s failure to sufficiently staff customer support resulted in lengthy call wait times and high rates of abandoned calls.

• A failure to track, document, and provide status updates to districts to let them know when students’ tests would be recovered left districts unaware if their students completed the required tests.

• There were inadequate evaluation and monitoring of internal controls implemented by external information technology service providers, such as Questar.

Bailey said the Tennessee Department of Education had difficult tasks in launching such extensive initiatives in creating their own academic standards, writing test questions that measure those standards and launching an online platform to administer the tests that measure those standards.

“When the old TCAP tests were retired, and Tennessee moved in the direction of writing their own standards and developing tests to measure those standards, they had such a short timeline for completing those tasks,” Bailey said. “When facing such a huge initiative, it is important to have the manpower and funding needed to assure the initiative has the necessary supports to function well. TDOE was responsive to questions I had as testing coordinator during the spring 2018 administration.”

On Oct. 1, Questar and the TDOE signed a contract amendment introducing new requirements and accountability measures for Questar. The department also made adjustments to improve its contract management.

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