Turns out, Tennessee wasn’t ready for TNReady after all

Many students and teachers cheered, some groaned.

But ultimately, Wednesday’s announcement that the state had suspended standardized testing for most grades in Tennessee generated mostly relief that the on-again, off-again assessment known as TNReady was done for the school year.

“I feel kind of good about it because I don’t have to stress about it,” said Elijah Clark, a sixth-grader at Lester Prep, as he shoveled dirt in a neighborhood garden after school on Thursday near his state-run middle school in Memphis.

Fourth-grade teacher Karen Vogelsang also was ready to move on.

“It doesn’t mean learning hasn’t occurred, and it doesn’t mean teachers haven’t been teaching their fannies off this year,” said Vogelsang, who teaches at Keystone Elementary in Memphis and serves as a member of the governor’s Teachers Cabinet.

“… You know, we just aren’t ready (for TNReady),” Vogelsang said.

Districts across Tennessee began canceling testing for math and English language arts for grades 3-8 after state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that TNReady was suspended for those grades due to the testmaker’s “inability to deliver all testing materials.” McQueen also announced that the state has terminated its contract with Measurement Inc., of Durham, N.C.

Beginning with the company’s failed rollout of the state’s first online standardized test on Feb. 8 due to an insufficient number of servers, TNReady was snakebit with problems as Measurement Inc. sought to print and distribute some 5 million testing documents in a timely manner this spring to more than 1,800 schools. Part I testing of TNReady finally was completed in March after numerous delivery delays. But this week, when Measurement Inc. missed its drop-dead deadline for delivering testing materials for Part II, state officials had had enough.

“We’ve exhausted every option in problem solving with this vendor to assist them in getting these tests delivered,” said McQueen, adding that she was “deeply disappointed” in the testing company.

The days ahead are all about figuring out what comes next — not only for the state but for each of its public school teachers in grades 3-8, who suddenly find themselves with an extra week of class to fill before the end of the school year.

Seventh-grade math teacher Ryan Winn said Thursday he expects a long weekend ahead to rearrange and create lesson plans for the week previously slotted for TNReady testing.

"... It's just an incredibly frustrating breakdown by people outside of classrooms in Tennessee that impacts everyone inside of them."

Ryan Winn, seventh-grade math teacher

“All in all, it’s just an incredibly frustrating breakdown by people outside of classrooms in Tennessee that impacts everyone inside of them,” said Winn, a teacher at KIPP Memphis Academy Middle School.

For students, testing isn’t over completely, with some classroom tests and other end-of-year assessments still on the horizon.

“We’re still going to do a whole bunch of work,” said Nithantia Waters, an eighth-grader at Bellevue Middle School, also in Memphis.

For high school students, TNReady has not been canceled, since those schools received all the necessary printed testing materials in time.

District leaders, who learned about the switch about an hour before McQueen’s public announcement, spent much of Thursday making logistical adjustments and processing the repercussions.

“Our teachers will do their normal classroom lessons, just as if there wasn’t a testing schedule,” said James Evans, a spokesman for Rutherford County Schools, based in Murfreesboro. “Teachers will tell you that’s what they’d rather be doing anyway — teaching instead of testing.”

The last-minute scheduling changes aren’t necessarily taking teachers by surprise. “Starting with TNReady Part I, they’ve had to get used to making changes quickly, and they’ve responded well,” Evans said.

Cancellation of TNReady frees up younger students to take field trips and participate in other activities that had been planned for late in the school year but were put in jeopardy when it appeared that TNReady testing would be delayed yet again. Still, other schools had already canceled outings that can’t be rescheduled, such as a trip to Washington, D.C., by students at RePublic Schools of Nashville.

Under federal law, states are required to administer standardized tests for students in grades 3-11 in math, reading and science. But McQueen said Wednesday that the state has “been in constant contact with the United States Department of Education to ensure that we are following federal law to the best of our ability and will continue to work with them on this issue.”

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen (TN.gov)

McQueen was appointed the state’s education chief after the state hired Measurement Inc., and has received mixed reviews from teachers groups for her handling of TNReady.

“Tennessee teachers and students have lost countless hours of instruction time this school year preparing for the new TNReady assessment,” said Tennessee Education Association President Barbara Gray, whose union represents thousands of Tennessee teachers. “The call to cancel this year’s test should have come more than two months ago when the first phase was such a disaster.”

Audrey Shores of the Professional Educators of Tennessee took a different tact. “While we have concerns about the negative repercussions that the past year’s testing failures may have on teachers and how this gap year will affect them in the future, we commend Commissioner McQueen’s proactive leadership and commitment to transparency throughout the process,” she said in a statement.