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Tennessee lawmakers call for McQueen’s resignation, scrapping TNReady over more testing failures

The Tennessee House of Representatives is in the State Capitol in Nashville.
The Tennessee House of Representatives is in the State Capitol in Nashville.
Marta W. Aldrich

As Tennessee education officials responded to a potentially “deliberate attack” on the state’s online test, Democrats called for the resignation of the state’s top education official, while a Republican lawmaker said he would move to scrap the exam completely.

House Democrats issued their rebuke on Tuesday after a second day of online testing went awry for TNReady, the standardized test that high schoolers are supposed to take online this spring.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville said TNReady is supposed to hold teachers and schools accountable, and now it’s time for the state to hold Education Commissioner Candice McQueen accountable.

“She has been giving this test year after and year, and yet again she has gotten an “F” on this test,” Clemmons said in a video tweeted by the caucus.

“We’re fed up,” added Rep. Mike Stewart, another Nashville Democrat who chairs his party’s caucus. “Commissioner McQueen had one thing she had to do this year, and she failed. We need another commissioner.”

McQueen will have her say on Wednesday, when she’s scheduled to appear before a joint House committee to explain what happened.

Earlier Tuesday, Rep. Jason Zachary, a Knoxville Republican, said he would file a bill that would “eliminate the electronic version and go back to paper.” He also wants to bar this year’s test scores from counting for students, teachers, or schools.

“It’s been a disaster,” Zachary said in a video posted to Facebook and Twitter. “Parents, teachers, administrators have put too much time into this to allow this to continue with the results.”

TNReady Update….we are addressing now on the House Floor. pic.twitter.com/b0kO85s5or

— Rep. Jason Zachary (@JasonZacharyTN) April 17, 2018

Zachary had not filed a bill as of Tuesday afternoon as state lawmakers were winding down their 2018 legislative session.

Other lawmakers previously have taken aim at TNReady. The assessment has been fraught with technical issues for three years but remains the cornerstone of Tennessee’s accountability system. Students’ scores are incorporated into teacher evaluations and help decide when the state steps in at low-performing schools.

Rep. Jeremy Faison, a Republican from Cosby, sponsored a bill earlier this year that would require TNReady to be “free of problems” for one year before being incorporated into teacher evaluations. That bill never made it out of subcommittee.

Last fall, state legislators grilled McQueen after scoring issues marred the state’s first year under Questar, the state’s new testing vendor. No concrete action came from those discussions, although an independent audit was suggested.

Spokespeople for McQueen and Gov. Bill Haslam, who has stood by TNReady and the state’s education accountability system, did not immediately respond to questions about legislative responses to the latest TNReady problems.

Haslam hired McQueen in 2014 after the departure of Kevin Huffman as education commissioner. She is a former classroom teacher and spent most of her career training teachers at Lipscomb University’s College of Education in Nashville.

This story has been updated with comments from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus.

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