Who’s to blame? State, testing company at odds over cancelled TNReady tests

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Tennessee students were supposed to finish taking TNReady earlier this week, but thousands of their tests are still sitting in a warehouse in Durham, North Carolina, boxed up and blank. Those tests shouldn’t even exist because the Tennessee Department of Education hired Measurement Incorporated, a North Carolina-based assessment developer, to create an online test for Tennessee’s new state standards.

The company’s president Dr. Henry Scherich said it was a massive project. It was also the first time Tennessee students would all be assessed online.

“We thought we could do it,” said Dr. Scherich. “We knew it was big and we thought our system was big enough to handle it all. And it did.”

However, back in February, the day Tennessee students started TNReady Part I, something went wrong. Dr. Scherich said only about half of the students logging onto the testing network were able to take the test. The other half, about 24,000 he said, saw big delays.

The DOE would call that day a failure; Dr. Scherich has a different story.

“It didn’t fail. Students’ screens never went blank, there was just the little spinning wheel and response time was not as good as we thought it would be,” said Dr. Scherich. “We were overloaded in some of our infrastructure [because] we didn’t plan enough capacity, but it didn’t break.”

Dr. Scherich said the students with delays could have logged back on the next day to finish their tests, or the state could have staggered testing days to take some of the load off the system.

The Department of Education didn’t see it that way. The delays were enough for the state to pull the plug, cancelling online testing completely and calling for Measurements Incorporated to print tests instead. That’s a decision Dr. Scherich said was made with almost no input from his company, and one he doesn’t think should have been made.

“The decision to stop Tennessee testing in three hours was just a bad decision,” said Scherich. “They just stopped everything. We could’ve adjusted our online system to be able to accomplish most of the testing or even all of the testing online.”

State leaders didn’t agree. “The department collaborated closely with MI on the online platform since the very beginning of the contract. This included but was not limited to three statewide capacity tests and extensive problem solving,” said Tennessee Education Commissioner Candace McQueen in April.Related stories:

McQueen then added that there had been previous problems leading up to the February 8 test day. She said even though those issues had been identified and worked through, they, combined with the February problems, “ultimately demonstrated the vendor’s inability to successfully support statewide online testing for Tennessee this year using their current testing platform.”

Dr. Scherich said after that, the state wouldn’t compromise or work with his company to find a solution and he had no choice but to try and get nine million documents printed, sorted and delivered to Tennessee schools in about two and a half months.

“The department lost confidence in the vendor’s ability to successfully deliver the online platform,” said the DOE in a statement.

“It was almost possible,” he said, noting that they ran into big problems trying to find a printing company that could take on such a massive, last minute print job.

Scherich said they finally found a company that would work around the clock, printing TNReady tests at 11 different plants around the country, shipping them to his Durham warehouses as they finished. The problem was, he said, they didn’t get there as soon as he’d estimated.

“I don’t think there was ever an ‘on time’,” he said. “The whole schedule had to be remade after the state went to pencil and paper.”

Measurement Inc. missed the first shipping deadline and delayed the shipping date three times in April. According to Scherich, Tennessee schools got almost all of the printed tests and answer books they were supposed to; out of the nine million documents MI was supposed to send, Scherich said only 319,000 are still in the Durham warehouse. With two and a half more days, he said those would have been delivered as well. Instead of waiting on another delay, the DOE told MI to stop everything, saying there were actually two million documents that hadn’t been shipped, and that 100 percent of districts were “still waiting on some grade 3-8 materials to arrive.”

“At the time of our announcement on April 27, based on the quantity MI was consistently shipping daily, the department estimated that all districts would not receive their materials for at least an additional week. We believe that districts had already exceeded their responsibility and obligation to wait for grade 3-8 materials, and the department had exhausted every option in problem solving with this vendor to assist them in getting these tests delivered,” said the DOE in a statement. “While MI had 11 weeks to plan and prepare for the distribution of Part II, they delayed their shipping schedule three times in April. MI originally told the department all materials would arrive in districts one week prior to testing. The company then told us ‘worst case scenario’ was Friday, April 22. However, they then pushed the timeline back to Wednesday, April 27, calling it a new ‘worst case scenario.'”

The state cancelled its two contracts with Measurement Inc. that totaled $165 million, and cancelled TNReady testing for third through eighth grades.

So, the blank tests remain in the Durham warehouse. In another MI warehouse about 15 minutes away, there are thousands more boxes; they’re filled with Part I of the TNReady test. If your child took that test, chances are good that it’s just sitting in that warehouse. Scherich said those have all been scanned into MI’s system, but because the DOE cancelled the contract and, according to Scherich, never paid six months of invoices, it’s possible they’ll never be scored.

At the end of the day, thousands and thousands of Tennessee students and teachers spent an entire school year getting ready for the TNReady test and weren’t able to take it. They were preparing for a test that would factor into grades and performance evaluations, and now there isn’t one. That’s something Dr. Scherich feels badly about, but he said if the state had allowed the problems with the online test to be worked out, Tennessee wouldn’t be in this situation.

“I’m disappointed that we weren’t able to fulfill the contract and I’m disappointed that parents and students aren’t going to get results from this year’s test,” he said, “but they could’ve.”

The DOE said it’s currently reviewing the contract with its attorneys to “ensure we utilize all remedies available to the state, including the assessment of damages.”

Scherich is doing the same. Even though the Part II testing for third through eighth graders was cancelled, MI still developed 4,000 test items specific to Tennessee standards, successfully conducted 170,000 block schedule tests last fall, and printed and delivered almost 9 million documents to Tennessee schools. Additionally, high school and End of Course tests were not cancelled. Scherich said his company should be paid for that work. He said he is hoping for mediation, but is prepared for legal action.

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