Tennessee cancels standardized testing in elementary and middle schools, citing delayed delivery of exams
April 28, 2016
By: Emma Brown
Tennessee officials announced Wednesday that they are suspending standardized testing for elementary and middle school students for the remainder of the spring, saying that the state’s testing vendor has repeatedly failed to deliver the exams as promised.
High school students will continue with testing, since the vendor did ship exams to all of the state’s high schools, officials said.
Candice McQueen, Tennessee’s education commissioner, also announced that she was terminating the state’s contract with the vendor, Durham, N.C.-based Measurement Inc. Though the company promised to deliver all tests by April 22, and then by April 27, 2 million documents are yet to be shipped, and all of the state’s school districts are missing some testing materials, she said.
“We will not ask districts to continue waiting on a vendor that has repeatedly failed us,” McQueen said. “I’m incredibly frustrated that our educators and students have given so much and yet our vendor has not provided reliability.”
The cancellation of the tests affects students in grades 3 through 8, who are required under federal law to take annual assessments . McQueen said she has been in “constant contact” with federal Education Department officials about the problems the state has faced in meeting its obligation to test students.
Measurement’s president, Henry Scherich, said in an interview Wednesday that McQueen had misspoken. Many districts already had all the materials they needed, he said, and every district would have had their math and reading test materials by May 2, at the latest.
“There are still several weeks left in school in the state of Tennessee, so I’m not sure why they would not let us do two more days of shipping and go ahead and administer the test,” Scherich said.
The cancellation of the testing means the state will not have the data it uses to judge many of its schools, districts and teachers. School districts will not receive performance ratings this year, and elementary and middle school teacher evaluations that would have been based on 2016 student test scores will instead be based on prior years’ achievement data.
The problems with testing in Tennessee have dragged on for months.
The state had initially planned to administer almost all standardized tests via computer for the first time this year. But state officials scrapped that plan on the first day of testing in February because of widespread technical problems that kept students from logging on and being able to complete the exams.
Scherich said earlier this month that the problems could have been due partly to schools’ lack of bandwidth or faulty infrastructure. But he said they were mostly the result of using too few servers — an issue that his company hadn’t tested before the exams began.
The state’s contract with Measurement required the vendor to provide paper-and-pencil tests as a backup. But the job of printing and delivering those exams on a tight timeline presented logistical challenges that the company struggled to overcome. Scherich said that the company successfully shipped paper exams in the spring for the first phase of testing, which consisted of open-ended and essay questions.
But it had trouble with the second phase, which was multiple-choice. That entailed printing and shipping 5 million documents, including test booklets and answer sheets.
“We’ve missed some deadlines,” Scherich said Wednesday. “This is not an easy job.”
McQueen said Wednesday that the state has paid Measurement $1.6 million for test development. School officials will examine the contract before making any additional payments, she said.
McQueen also said that the state continues to believe that annual standardized tests are critical for providing the information schools need to improve. In the coming weeks, she said, school districts may choose to administer tests if they have all the exam materials required for a given grade level and subject. In that case, schools and families will get some — but not complete — information about student performance.