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VOL. 43 | NO. 1 | Friday, January 4, 2019

Questar to bid for new testing contract with Tennessee

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NASHVILLE (AP) — The company that administers Tennessee's problem-plagued student assessment testing program says it still plans on throwing its hat in the ring to secure a new state contract so they can continue overseeing the same service in the fall.

Officials with Questar Assessment Inc. confirmed this week their plans to participate in the bidding process. The announcement comes just a few weeks after both state auditors and top education officials largely pointed to the company as the key culprit for the longtime failures of the TNReady test.

"Questar Assessment is planning to bid for the TNReady contract," said Questar Assessment Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner, in a Thursday statement. "We believe we have the right people and processes in place to best serve the state of Tennessee."

Questar added that it "does not agree with several of the Tennessee comptroller's findings," but the company says it appreciated being included in the audit process.

Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam said the state plans on contracting with a new vendor and is currently preparing the contracting process.

Shortly after, auditors released a lengthy report in December that held both the state and Questar accountable for failing to monitor and evaluate the testing program. However, the audit specifically pointed to Questar for failing to adequately staff customer support and the decision to switch its text-to-speech software which resulted in not only lengthy testing disruptions, but also led officials to briefly speculate the system was experiencing a cyberattack.

Baumgartner says Questar has since improved its "outbound" communication with state and school district staff and its customer support centers will continue to be properly staffed. The company says it also never indicated that a "cyberattack was certain."

Additionally, fall testing that occurred late last year was deemed a success by both the state and Questar due to the lack of disruptions and technology challenges.

Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Sara Gast declined to comment to Questar's response, saying the agency had already addressed the audit

At the time, Gast said "Questar's performance was the root of the issues we experienced this spring."

In 2016, the state canceled its five-year $108 million contract with a testing company because of repeated failures, including the inability of students to get online to take the tests and later with problems getting paper assessments shipped to schools on time.

Then in 2017, state officials announced that nearly 10,000 of the tests were scored incorrectly. The following year, lawmakers scrambled during the final days of the legislative session to pass last-minute legislation ensuring no students, teachers or schools suffered as a result of repeated failures with the state assessment test.

That's because state law says teachers must be evaluated partly based on the tests, as well as students and schools.

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