Did Tennessee offload too much blame for TNReady testing woes onto a dump truck?

It wasn’t just the dump truck.

The troubles that at least two Tennessee school districts had connecting to the state’s online testing system last week were not related to a slashed fiber optic cable, the internet provider says.

State Department of Education officials blamed testing problems last Thursday on a fiber optic cable that had been severed by a dump truck in East Tennessee. That cable cut, officials said, resulted in slowed connectivity for students in some districts, while other school systems could not connect at all.

Additionally, other students in Shelby and Haywood counties in West Tennessee were unable to log into the testing platform or had difficulty submitting completed tests.

“There is no evidence this was anything other than a side effect of the issue with the fiber cut, but we continue to look into it,” Sara Gast, a spokeswoman for the state education department, said last week.

But internet provider Education Networks of America disputes that, saying that the West Tennessee issues were not related to the cable cut.

What happened in those cases remains a mystery, for now.

Joey Hassell is the superintendent of Haywood County Schools in West Tennessee.

When asked this week about the conflicting statements between the state and the internet provider, Gast maintained that the cable cut was the catalyst for the issues last Thursday.

According to Education Networks of America, the company that has long been the internet provider for nearly all of Tennessee’s school systems, only 12 Middle Tennessee districts had major internet connection issues:

  • Carter County
  • Coffee County
  • Giles County
  • Grainger County
  • Hawkins County
  • Loudon County
  • Manchester City
  • Maury County
  • Richard City
  • Rogersville City
  • Wayne County
  • White County

Nine other districts experienced sporadic internet access after the company tried to reroute traffic to another connection:

  • Blount County
  • Cocke County
  • Cumberland County
  • Elizabethton City
  • Fayetteville City
  • Lawrence County
  • Marshall County
  • Sullivan County
  • Tullahoma City

School districts in Clarksville-Montgomery, Humboldt, Jackson-Madison, Lewis, Lincoln, Moore, Rutherford, Williamson, and Wilson counties, along with a couple of state-run schools for students who are deaf and blind, don’t use Education Networks of America as their internet provider.

Michael McKerley, the chief technology officer for Education Networks of America, said the company can easily track which districts are having major internet connection issues. He said “it’s doubtful” the problems in Haywood and Shelby counties were caused by the cable cut.

“In this particular circumstance, it’s unclear to me how if the customer had fine internet access but something was wrong with their interactions with the testing platform, it’s unclear to me how that was caused by this fiber cut,” he said.

There were major interruptions across the state and at least one high school pushed back an English exam for 120 students for a week as they suffered through reported issues with the state’s online testing system.

“The frustrating part is that we usually don’t know why an error is happening or how to fix it,” said Dylan Moore, a biology teacher at Freedom Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Memphis.

TNReady’s online test has experienced widespread interruptions on at least four days since testing began April 16. There were log-in issues on the first day, a reported cyberattack on the second, and a problem with lists of students taking the test later in the week after the state’s testing company, Questar, updated its software the night before.