The company tasked with administering TNReady tests to thousands of students across the state is responding to an audit, released by the Tennessee Comptroller's Office, that blamed them for a series of issues with testing last spring.

Thousands of students took the TNReady test last April and faced several issues with the online exam including login delays, slow servers, and software bugs.

According to the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, the first signs of trouble began on April 16, 2018 and continued through the end of the month.

Auditors found that many of those issues occurred primarily because of Questar Assessment, Inc's performance and updates to the student assessment system. 

"Auditors also found the Department of Education’s oversight of test administration fell short of expectations," the Comptroller's Office said. 

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The performance audit’s nine findings include five issues surrounding TNReady. These findings include:

  • the department’s lack of sufficient, detailed information on its Work Plan with Questar rendered it less effective as a monitoring tool to ensure Questar met all deadlines.
  • Questar’s decision to make an unauthorized change to text-to-speech software without formally notifying the department. This change contributed to the online testing disruptions.
  • Questar’s failure to sufficiently staff customer support, resulting in lengthy call wait times and high rates of abandoned calls.
  • a failure to track, document, and provide status updates to districts to let them know when students’ tests would be recovered, leaving districts unaware if their students completed the required tests.
  • inadequate evaluation and monitoring of internal controls implemented by external information technology service providers, such as Questar.

Questar Assessment, Inc. said in its response that it is committed to serving Tennessee, its teachers, students, and parents.

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The company said it hired an outside firm to perform a comprehensive review of its processes. Questar also said it immediately implemented several recommendations and will continue to implement others prior to the 2019 Spring administration.

“We understand the frustration with TNReady testing last spring,” said Questar Assessment Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner. “We have a long history of successfully serving our customers, and we look forward to continuing those partnerships in the future.”

Questar said while it does not agree with several of the Tennessee Comptroller’s findings, it appreciates the thorough nature of the audit and inclusion in the process.

“Questar has always held the position that the pattern of data discovered during Spring TNReady administration was consistent with what could have been an attack, but we did not at any time indicate that a cyberattack was certain,” Baumgartner said.

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Over the course of the audit, the department and Questar worked constantly to address the issues that caused or contributed to the spring 2018 testing problems. 

"Because we had never experienced an issue of this magnitude, we had not developed appropriate outbound communication channels that would have better informed state and district staff. These channels are now in place, thanks to the work of the Tennessee Department of Education and Questar. Our centers will continue to be properly staffed for any additional questions," Baumgartner said.

According to Questar, students across Tennessee took more than 72,000 tests in the fall, and the Tennessee Department of Education reported a smooth testing experience across all districts.

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"On Oct. 1, 2018, Questar and the department signed a contract amendment introducing new requirements and accountability measures for Questar. The department also made adjustments to improve its contract management," the Comptroller's Office said. 

“We are not standing still. Questar Assessment is committed to continually advancing our processes, technology, and security,”  Baumgartner said. “We look forward to serving Tennessee teachers and students this spring with the best testing experience possible.”

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