History holds solution to TNReady’s failures

TNReady has failed to live up to its name — again. The statewide testing, established to create measurable standards for students in the wake of the state’s rejection of Common Core standards in 2015, is predictably a steaming mess after being plagued with problems each year since its inception.

As The Tullahoma News reported last week, schools throughout the state were unable to complete testing due to failures in technology. It started in 2016 when the hastily-designed test was a bust on testing day due to problems with the technology. It was reported that server crashes due to volume were the culprit. Measurement, Inc. lost its $108 million state contract due to that year’s failures.

Enter Questar, the next company the state contracted to implement TNReady. Last year, approximately 10,000 tests given in the state were scored incorrectly under Questar’s management.

Questar is blaming 2018’s failure on a “deliberate attack,” though at this time no evidence of such an attack has yet been made public (though in all fairness, it’s only been a week). The state’s General Assembly determined that the results of this year’s test, once again, won’t count against students, teachers and schools, though if results are positive, it can benefit them. Confused? We are, too, but the it-only-counts-if-it-helps formula for 2018 is just background information, not the point we’re making.

This year, the impact was again felt locally as some Tullahoma High School students taking English and history tests had difficulties logging in and many students who were able to log in had their tests fail to submit and score.

History has taught us that this situation was completely avoidable. Let’s go back in time …

The American College Test (ACT) was established in 1959. While it has undergone changes, it is still a major measurement for students seeking admission to colleges and universities today. Since it first rolled out almost 60 years ago, technological failures have never resulted in the ACT not occurring on time. That’s because the ACT uses pencil and paper, a novel concept in today’s world of online technology.

So to return to last week’s problems, paper and pencil may seem old-fashioned. It may seem rudimentary. It may seem expensive with the costs of printing the booklets and distributing them. But barring a global trade incident involving graphite, paper or the ink used to reproduce the tests, we don’t see a lot that can go wrong – technologically, anyway.

Sure, even paper tests are scored by computer, but paper documents can be scored again if anomalies in the results appear. Unfortunately, an online test that fails to transmit when the test is locked down and the send button is clicked can’t be scored. Or rescored. Or reviewed. A stressed-out student who is repeatedly denied access to his or her test can’t go back to 10 minutes ago, be calm and take the test with a clear head.

Technology has made the world better in a lot of ways, and maybe the day will come when TNReady-style tests can be given simply, efficiently and cheaply online. But you’d think after three failures in a row in subsequent years, the state would come to accept that there’s an easier way.

We’d suggest the easiest solution for being ready next year is one that’s been around 454 years — since 1564. That was the year graphite was discovered and the pencil was born.

We tend to doubt long-lasting harm will come to students who get a little powdered carbon on their fingertips, and maybe we’ll test on time, have the results count and we won’t again delay validating scoring from tests that have cost Tennessee taxpayers millions of dollars and our school districts thousands of man hours.

We’ll avoid attempting to quantify in dollars the aggravation, humiliation and embarrassment our state’s top officials with the Department of Education have endured for these debacles.

It seems obvious to us that if testing using modern technology is designed to save dollars, it’s been a miserable failure for three years running. Maybe the best solution is using tried-and-true technology that’s five centuries old.

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