Updated with response from Measurement Inc.
There had been problems throughout the trial period for Tennessee’s new online standardized test. One even required a total overhaul. But the state’s top education officials say Monday’s glitch was entirely new, and that's why they abandoned computer-based testing for the year.
Education commissioner Candice McQueen says she doesn’t want to rush to judgment, but she has lost confidence in the testing company that was hired to transition Tennessee from paper-based tests to online exams.
“Yes, we have doubts about them going forward. And yes we have concerns. And yes, we are reviewing all of that currently,” McQueen told reporters Tuesday.
Measurement Inc. was granted a five-year contract worth $108 million. The Durham, N.C.-based testing company was the smallest player in the running. It had the lowest bid, but was also the highest-ranked during the process.
Education Department officials say they have only paid $1.6 million, and that was mostly to design the test questions. They say no money has been paid for the failed online platform.
“We only pay based on deliverables,” McQueen said.
Measurement Inc. has been dealing with other unsatisfied customers around the country. The company’s CEO appeared before Michigan lawmakers in January to explain why test scores were released too late for them to be useful. Other states have also run into glitches during the initial transition, but that’s true for other testing companies as well. Indiana dumped its vendor for Pearson after a series of problems in year one.
Measurement Inc’s CEO released a statement late Tuesday, saying the company is “very disappointed” Tennessee was so quick to switch to the backup plan. Nearly 20,000 students successfully completed the test, according to the company. And for those who were not allowed to log on, the Scherich says he "believes that the server overload problem has been corrected.”
Schools have spent untold millions to buy more computers and upgrade their networks. But McQueen argues that the money was not wasted and that some superintendents have said they’re grateful for the nudge that online testing provided to invest in technology.
“It’s the way of the world,” McQueen said. “People are moving to online environments in all kinds of settings. Many of our national tests are moving to an online environment. So it is still a goal for us, and we will continue to move in that direction.”
The state will evaluate whether Measurement Inc. is equipped to carry on. But first, Measurement Inc. has been asked to provide paper tests so schools can get started by Feb. 22.
Measurement Inc. has not yet responded to requests for comment by phone and email.
Democrats call for 'pause'
Meanwhile, Democrats in the Tennessee legislature are asking for a three-year "pause" to using test scores to evaluate students, teachers and schools.
House Democrats said at a press conference Tuesday morning that the crash will cause uncertainty. That will drive scores down, they said, and open the door to more schools being taken over by the state's achievement school district, or ASD.
"The schools are going to take a hit. We know that's going to happen," said state Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis. "The schools are going to take a hit, and ASD will be waiting in the wings to eat them up like Pac-Man."
Democrats say standardized tests should continue to be administered, but no one should be punished based on the results. That includes students, teachers whose pay can be affected by scores, and schools that can be moved into the ASD if they score in the bottom 5 percent statewide.
Democrats previously have argued the state is focusing too much on test scores. Parkinson is sponsoring a bill that would abolish the ASD and replace it with "innovation zones" overseen by local school districts.