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Moore County schools push on despite TNReady failure

Posted on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Tennessee Education Commisioner Candice McQueen speaks about TNReady. (Photo courtesy TN Photo Services)

Tennessee Education Commisioner Candice McQueen speaks about TNReady. (Photo courtesy TN Photo Services)

LYNCHBURG, Tenn. — Despite a failure by a state-contracted vendor to deliver TNReady testing material on time, teachers at Moore County Middle School have pressed on in an effort to evaluate their seventh- and eighth-grade students this year.

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced last week that the department was terminating its statewide testing contract with Measurement Inc., effective immediately. While high school testing was to continue as planned, the state decided to suspend grade 3-8 testing during the 2015-16 school year due to Measurement Inc.’s inability to deliver all testing materials.

Still, according to Moore County Director of Schools Chad Moorehead, many teachers here wanted a way to evaluate their student’s progress, so they forged ahead, creating their own test to use as a measuring stick.

“We got the word that the commissioner … she had a conference call with all the districts saying they were cancelling the TNReady testing before releasing that information to the press,” said Moorehead. “(Afterwards) I sent that information on to the principals to make them aware.

“That afternoon, our middle school teachers … basically I think they got together and wanted to have something to show our kids the progress that they have made throughout the year. They got with the testing coordinator, which is Mrs. Vann, and they created their own test.”

“We are gonna use some sort of benchmark, even if we have to create our own, so we will know what they have learned. They have all been working so hard to teach and to learn and they want to show that progress. That came from the classroom to the administration, and when (MCHS principal) Mr. Tracy called me and said this is what we want to do, I said that I think that’s a great idea.”

While it may not be the test they were scheduled to take, testing began this week for Moore County Middle School nonetheless.

“It won’t be nearly what the TNReady data would have been, but it will be something to show them how much they have (learned) throughout the year,” Moorehead added.

Moorehead said that there are some school districts within the state that are moving forward and using all or a portion of the TNReady testing material to test and evaluate their students. Some of these school districts have gone as far as to seek out or borrow materials from other districts who did receive their allotment of TNReady material.

According to Moorehead, the only thing Moore County schools received were the answer booklets.

“We didn’t receive any (test booklets), so we couldn’t use them or share any with anyone if we wanted to,” Moorehead said.

TNReady, the state’s new assessment in math and English language arts in grades 3-11, was designed to be administered in two parts. Part I was given in late February and early March, and Part II was scheduled to begin on April 25.

Early struggles

There have been struggles from the onset. In February, schools were forced to move from the originally planned online assessment delivery to a paper-based format due to the failure of the vendor’s online platform.

Then, early this month, Henry Scherich, the president and founder of Measurement Inc., — the company that created TNReady — said his company was struggling to deliver the printed documents as well. In an interview with Chalkbeat, Scherich said the subsequent delays in delivering printed testing materials were unavoidable.

He said the switch to printing meant Measurement Inc. had to scramble to print answer sheets and test booklets for grades 3-11 amounting to 5 million documents — when only weeks before, they hadn’t planned on printing any.

The head of the North Carolina-based vendor said that Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s decision to scrap the online assessment on the first day of testing in February set in motion a “chain of logistical quagmires that were impossible to overcome.”

Once McQueen ordered districts to switch back to paper tests, his company found the sudden task of printing and delivering up to 5 million documents this spring overwhelming, if not impossible.

On April 27, Measurement Inc. revised its shipping schedule for a third time and failed to meet its most recent deadline. At that point, McQueen made the decision to pull the plug.

“Measurement Inc.’s performance is deeply disappointing. We’ve exhausted every option in problem solving with this vendor to assist them in getting these tests delivered,” McQueen said. “Districts have exceeded their responsibility and obligation to wait for grade 3-8 materials, and we will not ask districts to continue waiting on a vendor that has repeatedly failed us.”

The state says that high school tests will be fully scored, and these results will be delivered later this fall.

“Challenges with this test vendor have not diverted us from our goals as a state. Tennessee has made historic and tremendous growth over the past several years. Higher standards and increased accountability have been a key part of this progress,” McQueen added. “Our work toward an aligned assessment plays a critical role in ensuring that all students are continuing to meet our high expectations and are making progress on their path to postsecondary and the workforce.”

Teacher evaluations

Flexibility that has already been provided for teacher evaluation through recent legislation will remain. If a teacher has TNReady data, in this case high school teachers, TNReady data will only be used if it helps the teacher. If a teacher does not have TNReady data, their evaluation will rely on data from prior years.

The department is currently working with the state’s Central Procurement Office to expedite the selection of a vendor for both the scoring of this year’s high school assessment and the development of next year’s test. The department has also been in close contact with the United States Department of Education to ensure that Tennessee is in compliance with federal requirements and will continue to work with them on this issue.

—ROBERT HOLMAN, Publisher  (mcnpub@lcs.net)

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