About 1,400 TNReady tests invalidated after students take wrong test for their grade

In the latest glitch in Tennessee’s beleaguered online testing system, a “poorly designed feature” caused about 1,400 TNReady exams to be invalidated in 39 school districts.

Nearly 500 of the instances involved students at Norris Middle School in Anderson County near Knoxville who took science or social studies tests that were below their grade level. Another 300 were in Sumner County.

Testing coordinators can manually change the grade level of a student for certain tests when, for example, a fifth-grade student takes a higher-level math course. But the feature was wrongly activated for hundreds of tests, Gast said.

The invalidated tests are the latest in a series of problems plaguing the state’s online testing system, designed by vendor Questar, since a three-week testing window began April 16.

On the first day, log-in problems erupted on the online version. The second day, Questar blamed some of the glitches on a cyberattack. This week, a fiber optic line reportedly severed by a dump truck led to more disruptions for teachers and students.

In a letter to parents Thursday about the latest goof, Anderson County Schools director Tim Parrott said the error was “no fault” of district employees. But Gast said the problem was a mix of user and system error.

“The feature’s design in the platform may have contributed to the accidental activation,” Gast said. Some teachers and students recognized immediately they had the wrong test, which alerted the state to the error. She said Questar has since changed the feature to “help users avoid doing this accidentally.”

Parrott said he expressed his frustrations to Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, Rep. John Ragan, and Education Commissioner Candice McQueen for what the state told the district was a “poorly designed feature.”

“Our students and teachers work hard every day and the ineffectiveness of this year’s testing is unacceptable,” he said in the letter. Anderson County was one of 59 school systems that chose to test middle school students online this year.

Gast emphasized the invalidated tests would not count toward student grades or teacher evaluations and would not affect any district’s rate of student participation in state tests.

“Students are not required to re-test, and their tests will not be scored,” she said.

Below is a chart from the Tennessee Department of Education of the number of students impacted by district:

Clarification, May 1, 2018: This story has been updated with a detailed list of students and districts impacted. The state education department initially estimated the number of students impacted at 1,800. That has since reduced to about 1,400.