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Online troubles send younger students back to paper and pencil for state testing

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Jun 16, 2018 at 12:37 AM

Only high school students will have to take the online version of the TNReady assessment next year after testing issues in the spring, the state announced Thursday.

Now students in grades 5 through 11 will have to take the science test online, but the test won’t count toward student grades or teacher evaluations. Students in grades 3 through 8 will take the TNReady test on paper for math, English and social studies. Students in grades 3 and 4 will take their science tests on paper, while students in grades 5 through 8 will now take their science tests online.

“As it is now, we will be restricted to only testing our high school students online. Grades 3-8 will be doing most of their testing with paper and pencil,” Johnson City Schools Supervisor of Testing Roger Walk said. “All of this is about getting the process of testing in Tennessee in a place where it's more reliable. But we think it’s a good call, considering what happened in the spring. I think we expected that there were going to be adjustments.”

Walk previously described the TNReady assessment as a “comedy of errors,” and said there seems to be a consensus among local educators that major changes are needed when it comes to state testing.

After replacing the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program in 2015 and stretching testing time to three weeks, the TNReady assessment had to cancel spring online testing altogether in its first year.

Last year, a number of paper tests were incorrectly graded. During the most recent testing season in the spring, online problems, including a cyber attack and numerous connectivity issues, caused even more headaches for local educators, Walk said.

“We as a school system were (previously) prepared for the transition to online testing. I think we would’ve considered doing all of our testing online. We would’ve considered it before this fiasco in the spring,” Walk said. “At the end of the day, we had a certain amount of small issues, even with paper testing, this past spring. This is an opportunity for us to step back and evaluate every aspect of that and work to refine everything we do.”

When it comes to necessary changes in state testing, Walk said the goal should be simple: making sure testing is efficient, timely and serves as a tool to help guide educators’ decisions when it comes to approaches to curriculum.

“I think we want to ensure that the time our students spend with us is high quality. Testing is important to help us make decisions on how we instruct, but we want to make sure their time here is used effectively and the data we receive from these tests are valid and reliable,” Walk said.

The state will now also put out a request for contract proposals in the fall, and a new contractor other than current test provider Questar could be identified in the spring.

As it stands now, Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said it’s still uncertain who will oversee the test in the 2019-20 school year.

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