Questar hires tech guru amid TNReady testing cleanup

Tennessee’s embattled testing company has hired a new technology chief to modernize its digital infrastructure, including shoring up problems that emerged during this year’s painful season of state testing under TNReady.

Questar announced Monday that Brendan Kealey, a former vice president with testing giant Pearson, will become its chief information officer as the Minneapolis-based company splits duties previously held by one chief technology officer.

Kealey will be tasked with improving and managing Questar’s information technology systems as testing programs continue to migrate from paper-and-pencil materials to computerized exams under multimillion-dollar contracts with states, districts, and campuses.

In Tennessee, he’ll work to sharpen the online platform that high school students will test on again this school year after navigating a bevy of computer glitches last spring with TNReady, the state assessment entering its fourth year.

Just last week, about 50,000 Tennessee students logged on for a 40-minute simulation to ensure that the bugs are out before the first round of TNReady tests start after Thanksgiving.

Questar officials are trumpeting the 46-year-old Kealey as key to positioning their company as a leader in computerized testing. Since 1997, he’s spent his career at Pearson and was responsible for leading the design, engineering, and administration of its large-scale testing platforms and products. Since 2011, he has been its vice president of software product development.

Kealey declined to comment on Tennessee’s testing challenges but told Chalkbeat that he brings “an online testing perspective and 20-plus years of experience in the field.”

“Job One is going to be to assess Questar’s platforms and environments and infrastructures to see that we’re doing best practices and have a solid foundation for innovation,” he said.

Questar also has testing contracts in Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah. But its work in Tennessee has garnered the most notoriety the last two school years because of missteps with online scoring and test delivery. For the most recent problems, outside reviewers blamed platform changes made by Questar without approval from Tennessee officials.

“As the result of this spring’s issues, we hired an external firm to do a review, and we’ve already made many of the changes that were recommended. Brendan will oversee the rest,” said Brad Baumgartner, the company’s chief operating officer.

Questar will complete its contract with Tennessee this school year, and Baumgartner expects the company will bid on the next one when the state invites proposals from other vendors before the year ends.

“We are ready as a company for fall and spring testing in Tennessee, and Brendan’s joining us will only strengthen our position,” Baumgartner said. “We’ve learned a lot and we are confident.”