New education commissioner plans to fix long-standing problems with standardized testing

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Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s new Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn says she’s committed to learning from past mistakes to fix long-standing problems with the state’s standardized testing. 

Educators have expressed frustration with “TNReady” for years, many blaming the state’s current vendor Questar Assessments for online failures, delayed results, incorrect grading and poor communication. 

These problems prompted Former Gov. Bill Haslam to embark on a statewide listening tour focused on improving the future of TNReady. Haslam’s administration left behind a comprehensive report outlining their findings. 

Now, Lee’s administration will have the opportunity to use this information to select the state’s next test vendor. 

During a visit Thursday to Anderson Elementary School in Bristol, Tennessee, Schwinn emphasized a number of priorities. 

She said it’s essential the next vendor puts more safeguards in place to ensure testing goes smoothly.

“Certainly we’re going to hold the new vendor accountable,” said Schwinn. 

She said smaller practice tests should be administered throughout the year so staff is comfortable with procedures.

If something goes wrong, Schwinn said teachers need to know who to call to get a speedy response and schools need to have a backup plan ready to go.

“They work really hard all year to demonstrate mastery of content and, at the end of the year, the minimum expectation is that they have the opportunity to demonstrate that learning,” said Schwinn. “If that means that a month in, two months in, we say we’re not ready as a state to do computer-based testing with this vendor, they need a year to get set up, we will absolutely make the decision to go to paper-based testing.” 

Schwinn said the bidding process for a new vendor will begin in a few weeks but they don’t plan to execute a new contract until September 2019. 

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