Ini­tial TNReady plan ‘too am­bi­tious’

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page - LARRY MCCOR­MACK / THE TEN­NESSEAN

Ten­nessee’s ed­u­ca­tion chief de­scribed the host of is­sues with TNReady as her most chal­leng­ing mo­ments, say­ing the state was ini­tially too am­bi­tious in its roll­out of the on­line test.

Not be­ing able to de­liver a smooth tran­si­tion to the TNReady as­sess­ment test is one of Ten­nessee Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Candice McQueen’s great­est re­grets as she leaves her post on Jan. 1.

And as her de­par­ture af­ter four years for a na­tional non­profit draws near, she of­fered some in­sight into how the test panned out dur­ing her ten­ure.

She said that frus­tra­tion from par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors around is­sues with the test de­liv­ery was fair.

“And I can guar­an­tee that there was no one in the state who was more frus­trated (about the test de­liv­ery) than I was,” she said.

‘Too am­bi­tious’

When McQueen ar­rived on the job in 2015, she was tasked with rolling out the TNReady test for the 2015-16 school year. The state was us­ing pa­per tests be­fore TNReady and was tran­si­tion­ing to an on­line plat­form af­ter de­cid­ing not to join a na­tional test­ing con­sor­tium.

“The am­bi­tion of the TNReady as­sess­ment pro­gram started very large and stemmed from the leg­is­la­ture’s de­ci­sion to pull out of a test we had been de­sign­ing for years with other states and in­stead take this on our­selves, on a shorter time­line, and move fully on­line all at once,” McQueen said.

McQueen in­her­ited a test­ing ven­dor and plan that she said had never been

Ja­son Gon­za­les

tried be­fore in the state.

She said the state was blaz­ing a “path for­ward with a com­pletely new as­sess­ment with com­pletely aligned items, that we weren’t buy­ing or bor­row­ing from other states, that had never been field tested and, as an en­tire state, that we were go­ing to move en­tirely on­line.”

That had im­pli­ca­tions. The state’s first ven­dor, Mea­sure­ment Inc., couldn’t de­liver the test on­line in spring 2016, caus­ing the can­cel­la­tion of test­ing in el­e­men­tary and mid­dle school grades.

High school stu­dents were tested on pa­per.

“That was too am­bi­tious,” McQueen said.

A tran­si­tion for Ques­tar

McQueen was op­ti­mistic of bet­ter re­sults when the state moved to a new ven­dor through an emer­gency pro­cure­ment process.

As the state was work­ing through its tran­si­tion with Ques­tar As­sess­ment Inc., the com­pany was ac­quired by a larger com­pany. It changed chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers, McQueen said, and the com­pany had a dif­fer­ent feel. “It was a turn­ing point,” she said. And there were is­sues af­ter the spring 2017 pa­per test ad­min­is­tra­tion where Ques­tar in­cor­rectly scored a small num­ber of tests. And the spring 2018 test win­dow brought re­newed frus­tra­tions.

Ques­tar ini­tially re­ported a “de­lib­er­ate at­tack” on its sys­tem. Only later did the com­pany and state of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge the in­ter­rup­tions were caused by Ques­tar em­ploy­ees mak­ing unau­tho­rized changes to the test­ing sys­tem.

McQueen said she had no choice but to move for­ward be­cause fed­eral and state law re­quires the de­liv­ery of the test or else bil­lions of dol­lars are at stake.

“When you partner with some­one — and through an RFP process — when they come up short you have to take the brunt of the com­plaints about that,” she said.

3 ‘first years’ of a test

The mount­ing is­sues man­i­fested into greater frus­tra­tion and anger among par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors, McQueen said.

“When you are in the mo­ment, you have trou­ble ex­plain­ing that in ways that peo­ple will hear be­cause peo­ple were frus­trated. I un­der­stand that,” she said. “There was a lack of trust. We were try­ing to be as trans­par­ent as we could even when we didn’t have all the in­for­ma­tion we needed from the ven­dor.”

Only months af­ter spring test­ing did McQueen and the state ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment learn the com­pany made a de­lib­er­ate change that caused func­tion­al­ity is­sues.

“Al­most all of the chal­lenges with spring on­line test ad­min­is­tra­tion stemmed from an unau­tho­rized change made by the ven­dor be­tween fall and spring test­ing,” McQueen said. “The con­tract re­quired this change to get sign-off from the depart­ment, but this did not oc­cur.”

For McQueen, she said the test is­sues have been like ad­min­is­ter­ing three “first years” of a test.

Reach Ja­son Gon­za­les at jagon­za­[email protected]­nessean.com and on Twit­ter @ByJa­sonGon­za­les.

TEN­NESSEAN

Ten­nessee Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Candice McQueen is leav­ing the state for a non­profit job. LARRY MCCOR­MACK /

Ten­nessee Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sioner Candice McQueen, left, talks with Paul Flem­ing and Laura En­calade. McQueen is leav­ing the state for a non­profit job.

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