Tennessee's education commissioner joined a representative from the state's new testing vendor Tuesday in a roundtable discussion with Knox County teachers.
This comes as Tennessee students face a new statewide standardized test this school year.
The former testing vendor, North Carolina company Measurement, Inc., failed to deliver on both its online and paper-pencil format tests last school year.
Tennessee consequently fired Measurement, Inc.
After an emergency procurement process this summer, the state Department of Education named Minnesota-based Questar Assessment its new vendor for the standardized TNReady test.
Questar sent its vice president of state solutions Marty Mineck to Tuesday's teacher roundtable.
"Questar is very honored to be here in the state of Tennessee, working with the commissioner and the department," Mineck told WBIR 10News.
The teacher roundtable took place at Fulton High School and brought together education officials and some two dozen Knox County teachers representing about 15 local schools.
The meeting was closed to the public, but 10News spoke with Mineck and education commissioner Candice McQueen beforehand.
"We're making good decisions. We're marching forward with the lessons learned from last year, with a solid partner to make sure that we have solid progress with our students," McQueen said. "This particular roundtable is not too little, too late. This is an opportunity to continue the process of improvement."
10News learned teachers asked McQueen and Mineck about testing accommodations for students with special needs, plus the turn-around on test scores that could impact teacher evaluations, among other topics.
Some teachers raised concerns about online testing versus paper-and-pencil exams. Other teachers questioned the wisdom of doing any kind of online testing for elementary school students.
McQueen said education officials are listening to stakeholders' concerns, especially those of teachers and that Tuesday's roundtable is just one example of that.
"Ultimately, (teachers') input has mattered the most in making the changes that we've made to date," McQueen said ahead of the meeting.
The state, for example, already announced shorter tests and shorter testing windows based on teacher input over the past year.
Questar will be developing, administering and scoring TNReady tests for 3rd through 11th grade students.
The tests will all be on paper and pencil this school year, with an optional online component for high schoolers in the spring.
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."
Questar, he said, will be customizing the test to Tennessee standards.
"We're building an assessment that the teachers, the students, parents, educators, can all feel proud about," Mineck said, adding plans call for an assessment that "meets the native curriculum - and not that the assessment drives what's being taught."
Knox County parent and Farragut alderman Louise Povlin, who was not a participant in Tuesday's roundtable discussion, told 10News last month she's concerned about online test prep.
"Our children are spending time learning how to take an online test for what reason? To make it easier to score it? For data collection? Neither of those serve purposes of our children's education," Povlin said.
In a conversation with 10News last month, Lauren Hopson, president of the Knox County Education Association teachers union, pointed to a situation in Mississippi where practice tests with errors were distributed to students. Questar is the state's standardized testing vendor.
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."