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Knox Co. students to begin TNReady on day 2 after login issues

Several students in Tennessee had issues taking state assessments on the first day of testing because they were unable to log into the testing system.

A technical issue caused testing jams for some students, including ones at more than a dozen Knox County schools, on the first day of TNReady state assessments.

Monday morning, teachers and students reported having difficulties logging into the Nextera system to take the assessments.

The Tennessee Department of Education said the issue was not a server crash or statewide outage, and was not related to the number of students taking the test. The TDOE said more than 25,000 students were able to complete their TNReady exams at this point today.

It's unknown exactly what the issue was exactly that caused the frustration. Carly Harrington with Knox County Schools said some schools in the area and Tennessee experienced a 'technical difficulty' that caused several students to not be able to log into the Nextera system.

The district sent out an update around 3:30 p.m. Monday with how the issue was handled within Knox County Schools.

"We understand the issue with the online platform has been resolved. Nevertheless, we decided not to have our students attempt to test for a second time today. We will begin the testing process again tomorrow, and we are hopeful all of our students will be able to successfully complete their exams. We thank all of our students who were prepared and ready to go," Harrington said.

Harrington said Monday that out of the 5 elementary schools that opted to have their fifth grade test online, Hardin Valley Elementary was the only one affected by the issue logging on.

Five middle schools could not take the test: Bearden Middle School, Cedar Bluff Middle School, Farragut Middle School, Gresham Middle School, and Halls Middle School.

Out of 16 high schools, the following 12 were impacted: Austin-East High School, Byington-Solway, Carter High School, Central High School, Farragut High School, Fulton High School, Gibbs High School, Halls High School, Karns High School, L&N STEM Academy, Powell High School, and West High School.

The TDOE said Questar resolved the issue, and now students are able to resume testing.

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said there will be a report to update directors with more details on the issue.

Most of the assessments happening in the 2017 -2018 school year are online, aside from grades 3 and 4.

TNReady testing stability has been a key issue due to past technical issues that caused the state to switch testing vendors and some lawmakers to question their own confidence in TNReady testing on the whole.

In Feb. 2016, the TDOE halted the online portion of the TNReady test because the vendor at the time could not meet bandwidth demands and tried to switch to paper tests. The problems snowballed as the vendor missed repeated deadlines to provide almost 10 million paper versions to the state’s 146 school districts, forcing the state to cancel testing that year as well as their contract with the vendor.

The issue was chalked up to inexperience, among other issues, with the test assessment company Measurement Inc. and their Secure Testing system to administer tests on a state-wide scale.

The state Department of Education named Minnesota-based Questar Assessment its new vendor for the standardized TNReady test later in 2016.

Questar Assessment has administered tests in states across the nation, including Mississippi, New York and Indiana.

"Last year alone, we had eight customers on the online platform that we'll be delivering here in Tennessee," Mineck said. "Questar's been around for about 40 years, and we literally have hundreds of successful assessments under our belt."

At the time, local educators were concerned with moving to an online-only test, pointing to a situation in Mississippi where Questar is the state's vendor where practice tests with errors were distributed to students.

A March 2016 article in Mississippi's Clarion-Ledger explains the initial confusion.

Mineck, however, said there is a simple explanation.

"Those practice tests were actually posted by the Department of Education in Mississippi, and Questar did not contribute to those at all," he said. "The Department of Ed spoke before the State Board of Education in that case and admitted that they posted those prematurely, before they were quality-checked."

He said Questar later distributed "our own practice tests in those same content areas without flaw and without problems," adding, "Questar didn't touch those things that happened in Mississippi that first got some headlines."

Following Questar's hiring in the 2016-17 school year test, scores were slow to be sent to districts. And about 9,400 of the state's 1.9 million TNReady assessments taken across the state were scored incorrectly. The issue affected about 70 schools in 33 districts, including in Davidson, Knox and Shelby counties.

At the time, Questar Assessment took responsibility for the issues and McQueen promised fixes, including again convening her assessment task force to identify improvements.

Some state lawmakers expressed a lack of confidence in the testing system as a whole, though, saying the issues since TNReady's inception have been far too plentiful.

"That people are losing confidence is an understatement," Rep. John Ragan (R- Oak Ridge) said during a task force meeting in Dec. 2017.