House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) is calling for state legislative hearings on problems with TNReady scoring.
“We have made great strides over the last several years in education, and we must be diligent in ensuring we continue these gains,” Harwell said on Facebook Tuesday. “We know that accountability has been a large part of this improvement. However, the news that nearly 10,000 TNReady tests were scored incorrectly has resulted in educators, parents, and legislators seeking answers. In addition, the amount of testing has also raised questions.”
Hawell, who is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, has asked the House Government Operations Committee to hold the hearings.
The scoring issue is the latest in a string of glitches over the past several years with standardized testing in Tennessee public schools. Testing has also come under scrutiny for the amount of time it takes away from instruction, the way student scores are linked to teacher evaluations and for what is viewed as acquiescence to a national large-scale testing apparatus involving for-profit companies selling testing products and services.
At the end of this past school year, testing vendor Questar was slow in returning test scores for report cards. Problems with its scanning program are now said to be behind mistakes affecting some high school English I and English II and Integrated Math II end-of course exams. Some 230 teachers may have been impacted with respect to growth measures for their annual evaluations. Teachers are evaluated in part based on student performance on standardized tests.
The Tennessee Department of Education is characterizing the scoring problems as a relatively minor issue, but one it regrets.
Less than 1 percent of student scores were affected, according to a news release issued by the Department of Education, which is overseen by Candice McQueen, the state commissioner of education.
“Though we have reported over 99 percent of grades 3-8 and EOC score data correctly, we need to be at 100 percent accuracy,” the press release said. “We hold our vendor and ourselves to the highest standard of delivery because that is what students, teachers, and families in Tennessee deserve.”
Questar issued a statement taking responsibility for the scoring mistakes.
“We are putting in additional steps in our processes to prevent any future occurrence,” said Brad Baumgartner, chief operating officer. “We are in the process of producing revised reports and committed to doing so as quickly as possible.”
Questar was hired by the Department of Education last year after experiencing problems with the previous vendor, Measurement Inc. In January, testing giant Educational Testing Service (ETS) announced that it was buying Questar for $127.5 million.
JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, said House education committees will have joint meetings next week during which the testing problem may arise. But he said the more important hearings will be when the House Government Operations Committee meets. According to Harwell’s office, they are still to be scheduled.
Mae Beavers, another Republican running for governor and a former state senator from Mt. Juliet, slammed the state’s standardized testing program in an interview with The Tennessee Star last week.