By Sally Absher

Last week the State Department of Education acknowledged what many of us already knew – Tennessee is NOT ready for TNReady, the new online assessment. Despite numerous, repeated warnings that TNReady wasn’t ready for prime time, the State forged ahead, telling us that everything was wonderful!

After a computer glitch halted online testing last week, parents and teachers alike are in an uproar over the hours that were spent preparing students for a test they will not be taking.

You may remember the disastrous “Break Mist” day last October, which the State said was designed  as a trial run to test the capacity of MIST (the platform for the new TNReady online assessment) to help identify challenges when there is still plenty of time to fix them.

But last Monday, as the Part 1 testing window opened, the system crashed within minutes of students logging on to begin testing. On Tuesday, Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen announced that all TNReady tests this year will be taken using paper and pencil, and a new testing window will be established, beginning after February 22.

One benefit – the paper tests are expected to take no more than five consecutive days, running in two parts…one later this month, and the other in late April.  That frees up considerably more time for classroom instruction than the current testing window for the online assessment, which allowed two to three weeks for each part.

The state has a five-year, $108M contract with Measurement Inc. for the online assessment program. They have currently paid out $1.6M, and McQueen said they will only pay for services that are delivered. The contract stipulates that if the state has to move to a paper test due to a system error, the vendor will provide the paper tests at no additional cost to the state.

McQueen sent a letter of explanation to Directors of Schools across the state, in which she said, “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 Inc.’s online testing platform in its current state.”

Andy Spears at Tennessee Education Report notes that in response to the challenges presented by the TNReady tests administration, some legislators are now calling for a pause on test-based accountability for students, teachers, and schools. The tests would still be administered, and results reported, but they would not impact student grades, teacher evaluations, or the state’s priority schools list.

Spears also notes this is the third consecutive year there were problems with the assessments. In 2014, quick scores were not ready in time to be factored into student grades, and last year there was a change in the quick score calculation that was not clearly communicated, resulting in much confusion.

The Hamilton County Principal’s Association sent a letter to McQueen recommending that TNReady scores not be applied to accountability data (for student, teacher, administrator, school and district evaluative measures and ranking) until 2019-2019, because “to compare 2015-2016 scores (paper/pencil) to 2016-2017 scores (online) would not be an accurate measurement of growth because the two assessments will be taken using entirely different formats.”

Last fall the state agreed that Districts would not be required to include scores in student grades. And in December, the Knox County BOE passed a resolution in support of excluding the TNReady test scores from teacher evaluations this year.

Chattanooga Radio and TV’s David Carroll published a letter from a Tennessee teacher, who speaks for many:

“… I cannot count the hours we spent practicing typing instead of doing science experiments, the minutes lost on learning how to navigate a worthless program instead of diving into books that will make children love reading, or the precious seconds I could have been showing your children the love and attention they deserve, but couldn’t because we had to take a practice test that day. This is where I have failed you, but the department of education has failed us both. So, I am here to say what they won’t say: I’m sorry.”

Teachers and parents (“stakeholders”) are increasingly critical of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on “technology,” much of which isn’t up to the task of an interactive online assessment that requires ‘drag and drop’ or ‘cut and paste’ manipulations, when Districts can’t afford textbooks and copy paper.

There is no evidence-based research that using technology increases educational outcomes; in fact, the best private schools in the country, such as those the children of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs attend, do not allow the use of technology until well into high school.