The Tennessee Department of Education has signed a contract with a new testing company following the failed switch to online assessments this year. But education leaders are hesitant to give computer-based testing another go right away.
It's not that the new company doesn't know how to give tests online, Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen says. Questar just finished converting Mississippi to computer-based testing without too much trouble (though there were some glitches lasting as long as 20 minutes).
But Tennessee's worst-case scenario with a vendor that has since been fired revealed that there could be some benefit to additional prep time.
"We heard from the field that folks feel like they also need to get a comfort level with computerized testing, online testing, with their students," McQueen says. "And this allows that to be planned for.”
For the upcoming year, some high schoolers will take end-of-year exams online, but only if their school is deemed ready. The goal is to get everyone online by 2019.
"Starting with our older students, they have more experience in an online environment," McQueen says. "We believe that is the right move for this next year with allowing districts to opt-in with high schools."
There could be other changes to the test, including the name. McQueen says "TNReady" was confusing to some who didn't understand that it was just the replacement for TCAP, which was based on old standards.
The Questar contract is a two-year deal valued at a maximum of $30 million per year. The way state education officials do the math, it's a little cheaper than the old agreement with Measurement Inc. The state is currently in negotiations with that testing company after breaking off a $100 million contract.
"We look forward to a long and successful partnership," Questar CEO Jamie Post Candee said in a press release.
Tennessee had never worked with the Minneapolis-based firm until earlier this year, when Questar was tapped to redesign an optional test for second graders. The assessment company vied for Tennessee's business in 2014, but Measurement Inc. came in with the lowest bid.
At the time, Tennessee was pulling out of the PARCC consortium, where tests were directly linked to the controversial Common Core State Standards. Like Tennessee, most states have now turned to other tests, but sometimes at a high cost.