TNReady testing goes smoother Wednesday: Education commissioner grilled by House committee

Zach Vance • Updated Apr 18, 2018 at 11:11 PM

After a day of login issues and alleged cyber attacks, Johnson City and Washington County school officials said Wednesday’s TNReady standardized testing went much smoother than the day before.

“We experienced no problems with students not being able to complete their assessments online today,” said Debra Bentley, Johnson City Schools’ director of instruction and communications.

She estimated about 1,200 Indian Trail students completed the online assessment Wednesday morning, and another 500 Science Hill students completed the exam before the end of the day.

Meanwhile, Bentley said Liberty Bell students successfully made up their tests, which had been canceled Tuesday due to apparent login issues.

“Reports from all three campuses are that (TNReady testing vendor) Questar worked well today,” Bentley said.

An update just after 1:30 p.m. from Washington County Schools Assistant Director of Schools Bill Flanary said TNReady testing for both Daniel Boone and David Crockett had gone much better than what students and teachers experienced Monday and Tuesday.

While students across much of the state spent their day continuing or making up tests, Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen was called before the Joint House Government Operations and Education Committee Wednesday to testify about a third-straight year of mishaps related to the standardized testing.

State education officials said Tuesday they believed the TNReady testing vendor Questar had experienced a “deliberate attack” on its data center, and after her testimony, McQueen said she had contacted Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk to request an investigation of the cyberattack.

Tennessee apparently wasn’t the only state affected, as Questar Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner said testing in New York, Mississippi, Missouri and South Dakota were negatively affected by the cyber attack.

“I want to personally apologize to all teachers, students, parents and district and school staff who have been handling these issues with patience and a positive attitude,” McQueen told lawmakers. “We were completely devastated when we heard that districts were again having technical issues yesterday. While the issues we have experienced over the past two days were separate in origin, they are equally frustrating.”

McQueen said Monday’s challenges began when some students experienced challenges logging into Nextera, the online testing platform. However, Questar had implemented a fix before 10:30 a.m. that apparently resolved the issue.

Tuesday’s issues are still being investigated, McQueen said, but initial findings still indicate the problem is external to the online delivery platform and “consistent to what would be considered a cyber attack.”

“The investigation includes the engagement of a third-party firm that specializes in incident response. Findings will be shared upon consideration,” McQueen said.

Lawmakers’ reaction to McQueen’s testimony ranged from asking for her resignation to supporting her effort to continue with the implementation of online testing.

In her opening statement, McQueen said paper testing can present worse logistical challenges, while costing more money and time to submit and grade.

“We are also one of only 10 states that have not transitioned fully to online. We need to keep moving forward as online is logistically easier and allows us to return results faster,” the education head told lawmakers.

Despite her argument to continue on the same path, Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, filed an amendment that would hold educators “harmless” for this year’s results, while Rep. William Lamberth, R-Cottontown, has an amendment that would end online testing altogether and return to pencil-and-paper testing.

Both amendments are attached to the same bill, and it’s scheduled to be heard by a House committee Thursday.

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