State Education Department Terminates Statewide Assessment Contract For Poor Performance

  • Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced on Wednesday that the department will terminate its statewide testing contract with Measurement Inc., effective immediately. While high school testing will continue as planned, the state will suspend grade 3-8 testing during the 2015-16 school year "due to Measurement Inc.’s inability to deliver all testing materials."

After revising its shipping schedule for a third time this month, the state’s testing vendor, Measurement Inc., failed to meet its most recent deadline. As of Wednesday morning, all  districts were still waiting on some grade 3-8 materials to arrive with a total of two million documents yet to be shipped. In February, the department was 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.

“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,” Commissioner 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.”

If districts have received materials for a complete grade or subject in grades 3-8 (i.e., fifth-grade math), they will have the option to administer that specific grade or subject level; however, the department will only be able to deliver limited student performance information for these particular grades and subjects. 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,” Commissioner McQueen said. “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 post-secondary and the workforce.”

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 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.

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.

Additional resources can be found in this frequently-asked questions document:

The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) issued the following statement by Executive Chairman and CEO Jamie Woodson:
"We are disappointed that many students in third through eighth grades will not be able to take the new TNReady assessment this spring because the testing vendor is incapable of providing the essential materials on time.
"Parents and teachers deserve to know how much progress their students have made over the year, and all Tennesseans deserve an annual snapshot of the progress schools and school districts are making. However, it is clearly the right decision by Commissioner McQueen to terminate the assessment contract and adjust district and school accountability this year.
"Going forward, we have a responsibility to learn from this transition year to ensure that next school year our students and teachers actually receive a test that honors their hard work. SCORE will be joining parents, teachers, and other stakeholders across the state in actively insisting that Tennessee has an annual assessment that clearly, rigorously, and fairly indicates what all students are learning."

The Professional Educators of Tennessee said, "The relationship between Tennessee and Measurement Inc. has been a dysfunctional one, with teachers and students bearing the brunt of the consequences. In a show of strong leadership, Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced today that the contract with Measurement Inc. is terminated, effective immediately. The department insists that they fulfilled their obligations under the contract, but the most recent delay caused by the vendor’s inability to meet deadlines left them with no choice.

"So what does this mean for schools and teachers? Basically, any measure that depends on test scores will not be calculated for the 2015-2016 school years, which will leave a gap in those that depend on multiple years’ data. Adjustments will have to be made to future calculations, though exactly how that will be handled is not yet clear. For now, no data from test for grades 3-8 will be included on the state report card, no Reward Schools will be identified from this school year, and Priority School lists will not be calculated.

"The new law signed by Governor Haslam this month that gives teachers the option of including assessment results within the student growth component of their evaluations this year provides some guidance as to how the effect on evaluations will be handled. Under the new law, TVAAS data from prior years will still factor into a teachers score; if they do not have data from previous years, the qualitative component of their evaluation will increase. If they chose an achievement measure based on TVAAS and that data is now unavailable, they will have to choose a new achievement measure. The department plans to release more details and guidance regarding these aspects soon."

“We have already been hearing from teachers regarding their disappointment that an assessment they have spent huge amounts of time and energy preparing for, and in some cases had high hopes would help boost their scores this year, is now a non-factor,” said Audrey Shores, COO of Professional Educators of Tennessee. “While we have concerns about the negative repercussions that the past year’s testing failures may have on teachers and how this gap year will affect them in the future, we commend Commissioner McQueen’s proactive leadership and commitment to transparency throughout the process.”

Commissioner McQueen's full remarks follow:

I appreciate you taking the time this afternoon to join me for an update, a rather lengthy one, on TNReady Part II. Todays update has two parts:

1.  I will discuss the future of our relationship with our test vendor, Measurement      Incorporated.

2.  And I will share the current status of test materials for Part II and related next  steps.

Effective immediately, the department is terminating its contract with Measurement Incorporated (also known as MI). TNReady was designed to provide Tennessee students, teachers, and families with better information about what students know and understand. The failure of this vendor has let down the teachers and students of our state.

The state awarded MI a contract to provide an online testing platform with a paper and pencil backup. Not only did MI fail to deliver a reliable online platform for students across the state, they have failed to print and ship paper tests by deadlines they have set, despite the fact that paper testing has always been listed as the back up medium in our contract.

As you know based on our communications last week, MI shifted their shipping deadline for a third time in April. Today, April 27, was the most recently communicated deadline that Measurement Incorporated set to deliver the remaining grade 3-8 materials. Unfortunately, MI has missed this deadline that they previously assured us they would meet.

100 percent of districts are still waiting on some grade 3-8 materials to arrive, and few districts have complete sets of tests for any grade or subject. MI has provided limited and vague information about the estimated delivery times for the remaining grade 3-8 materials. In total, two million documents have not been shipped yet, and based on the quantity in MI’s daily shipments, if we continued to wait, we do not believe districts would receive all of their materials until late next week.

Last week, we announced that we would not ask districts to continue to change schedules and extend the testing window beyond May 10. We know the transition to TNReady has presented unexpected challenges for educators, schools, and districts, and we will not ask them to further disrupt their end of year schedule.

We believe that districts have exceeded  their responsibility  and  obligation to  wait for grade 3-8 materials. We will not ask districts to continue waiting on a vendor that  has repeatedly failed us. As a result of MI’s failure to deliver Part II testing materials, we are suspending Part II for grades 3-8 only. High school testing will continue as planned.

While the law requires annual state testing, we find ourselves in an unusual and unique circumstance. As a result, I have been in constant contact with the United States Department of Education to ensure that we are following federal law to the best of our ability and will continue to work with them on this issue to make a good faith effort to administer the test to all Tennessee students.

Some districts have received a complete set of testing materials for a grade and subject. If a district already has a complete set of materials, they can choose to administer that test. For example, if a district has already received a complete set of testing materials for fifth-grade math, the district will have the option to administer this test to all of its schools. However, we will only be able to share raw data with districts that choose to test. Raw data will also be available for grade 3-8 students that have already completed Part II.

We know that annual assessments play a key role in the teaching and learning process, and aligned assessments, like TNReady, are critical to ensure that all students are meeting higher standards and are making progress on their path to postsecondary and the workforce. While we are disappointed that we will not  receive complete data for every student from this year’s state assessment, we will use all available data to provide feedback to educators. We will also share as much information as possible with schools and students related to Part I testing for grades 3-8. This will be used for informational purposes only and no score will be associated with Part I for grades 3-8. High school tests will be scored, as they were for the students who are on block schedule and already took the test. These results will be delivered this coming fall.

In addition, the department will work with the state board of education to address district accountability this year. While the state and districts will still collect and report all available student performance information, the department is proposing to eliminate district performance designations, such as “Exemplary” or “In Need of Improvement.” All reportable data, such as graduation rate, average ACT scores, and high school TCAP scores, will still be publicly reported on the state Report Card in the fall.

Todays announcement also doesn’t change the flexibility that has already been provided on teacher evaluation. 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.

Terminating our contract with MI at this point was a challenging decision because weve been working to honor the effort and investment of Tennessee teachers and students; however, we’ve exhausted every option in problem solving with this vendor and to assist them in getting these tests delivered.

In fact, earlier this week, we heard from MI that a shipping limit was delaying their progress, so we worked directly with Fed Ex to get it removed. Then, we narrowed the scope of shipping by asking MI to only prioritize the delivery of math and ELA tests. However, despite narrowing the scope, MI was still unable and unwilling to assure us that they could guarantee their deadline of April 27. And as of today, MI failed to ship all math and ELA materials to districts.

Throughout this tumultuous relationship, extending over many months, we have consistently lost confidence in MI and are incredibly frustrated by their lack of ability to perform and communicate. While MI has had 11 weeks to plan and prepare for the distribution of Part II, they have delayed their shipping schedule three times in April. MI originally told the department all materials would arrive in districts one week prior to testing. The company then told us “worst case scenario was Friday, April 22. However, they most recently pushed this timeline back to Wednesday, April 27, calling it a new “worst case scenario.” Upon learning of the final delay, the department immediately and repeatedly requested specific delivery dates for districts which MI said they were unable to provide.

We are deeply disappointed in the performance of this vendor, especially after districts, schools, and the department have provided solutions to almost every obstacle we have encountered to date. I am humbled by the leadership we have seen in classrooms, schools, and districts, and I am incredibly frustrated that our educators and students have given so much and yet our vendor has not provided reliability.

The department is currently working with the states Central Procurement Office to expedite the selection of a vendor for both the scoring of this years high school assessment and the development of next years test.

While the transition to a new assessment this year has been incredibly challenging, we believe annual assessments are a critical measure to ensure our students are on track.

The work that has gone into our test transition supports goals that we believe are the right ones in Tennessee: preparing our students for the modern-day demands  of our colleges and employers and equipping our education system to provide more real-time feedback to students, parents, and educators about where they are on  that journey. Results from annual state assessments give both teachers and parents a unique feedback loop and big-picture perspective to better understand how students are progressing and how they can support their academic development.

 This year will be the next step in an ongoing transition to ultimately make sure we do this right.

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