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Tennessee rolls out new online testing platform — carefully

High school students in 12 districts piloted the state's new online platform on Thursday. Marc Piscotty

After Tennessee’s online testing snafu became a national cautionary tale last year, the state is trying a new online platform — and this time, not baptizing it by fire.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Friday that 9,000 high school students tested out an online platform created by the testing company Questar on Thursday, the first step in a conservative plan to allow some high schools to administer state tests online next spring.

“This pilot has been incredibly helpful to inform both our work at the state, as well as districts looking to pursue online testing for their high school students,” McQueen said.

The state hired Questar, a Minnesota-based company, in July after firing North Carolina-based Measurement Inc. for failing to deliver on what was supposed to be Tennessee’s first online test. That didn’t come to pass: Online testing — and then, for most grades, testing altogether — was canceled after a series of technical and logistical difficulties last spring.

Thursday’s debut of Questar’s online platform, called Nextera, was much quieter than the unveiling of Measurement Inc.’s platform last Oct. 1. Then, students at all schools statewide logged on to the system in an effort to “break” it so that testing officials could fix weaknesses before testing day.

Schools succeeded in crashing the platform, but Measurement Inc. never succeeded in fixing all the bugs. This week, a smaller pool of schools were chosen to test the system so that department officials could see if the online platform worked in a variety of settings and on a variety of devices.

Questar has time to get the online component airtight. The state is phasing in online testing, giving high schools the option to test on computers this year only if the pilots of Nextera continue to be problem-free. Questar has successfully used Nextera in other states in the past.

Participating districts and schools included:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Claiborne County Schools
  • Fayetteville City Schools
  • Fentress County Schools
  • Jackson County Schools
  • Jackson-Madison County School District
  • Knox County Schools
  • Rutherford County Schools
  • Tennessee School for the Blind
  • Tennessee School for the Deaf
  • Trousdale County Schools
  • Williamson County Schools

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