Tennessee's digital testing woes highlight pain points of broader shift
- For those keeping score, Tennessee's TNReady standardized test has once again hit a number of roadblocks this year, as documented by a day-by-day timeline from Chalkbeat.
- Among this year's issues have been a cyberattack currently under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the State Office of Homeland Security, a handful of technical issues, and the severing of a fiber optic line by a dump truck in Knoxville.
- As a result of the technical issues, which included a design error that assigned tests for the wrong grade level to students in 39 districts, the state legislature has approved legislative measures aimed at lowering the impact of results from this year's exams on accountability metrics.
In 2016, the first year it was administered, the TNReady exam was hindered by an online system that couldn't bear the load of students accessing it at one time and subsequent delivery delays with printed exams. Last year, it was hit with scoring issues. It's worth keeping in mind, though, that this is still the early days of digital state standardized exams. Some stumbles are to be expected and aren't limited to Tennessee.
States have a lot of moving parts to consider when moving high-stakes exams online — not the least of which being the process of administering the tests and establishing practices to monitor for cheating. Not every school or district is going to be fully prepared to jump right into an online exam model. Less affluent schools in particular may lack the necessary broadband infrastructure to accommodate a large number of students taking an online exam at one time. On top of that, cyberattacks — from both malicious hackers and mischievous students alike — can derail the testing period. And that's not even including random accidents beyond any administrator or policymaker's control, like the Knoxville dump truck incident.
Administrators must ensure that state education agencies understand the circumstances in their individual school or district as conversations around the shift to online assessment progress so they can advocate for the necessary resources for success. Additionally, on the infrastructure front, taking advantage of programs like the Federal Communication Commission's E-Rate funding can also help level the playing field.
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