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Tennessee online testing problems persist for third straight week

Tennessee students struggled to test online again on Monday, with an array of headaches from start to finish while taking the state’s standardized test during its third week.

The problems included login issues, screens going blank, and trouble submitting their exams. There also were reports of students getting booted off the platform in the middle of their TNReady test. 

Districts were told late in the day that the culprit was traced to a feature allowing text to be turned into speech for students needing audible commands.

“The problems presented by this feature impact the system for districts across the state, regardless of how many of your students are using text-to-speech,” said an email to superintendents from the state Department of Education.

The feature will be turned off Tuesday so that Questar, the state’s testing company, can look further into the problem. “We are taking this step because we believe you will otherwise continue to experience the same slowdown issues you saw today,” the email said.

The glitches occurred in districts across the state, prompting some to suspend testing and others to leave the decision up to individual principals.

“We have not suspended testing as a district, but a few schools have chosen to suspend testing for the remainder of the day because of the disruptions,” said James Evans, a spokesman for Rutherford County Schools, south of Nashville.

Knox County Schools halted testing in the morning and resumed in the afternoon, said spokeswoman Carly Harrington.

The superintendent for Williamson County Schools lashed out on Twitter over another day of testing and instruction lost to technical problems.

The issues were the latest in a string of technical problems that began on the very first day of TNReady testing on April 16. The causes have ranged from a reported cyber attack to a severed fiber optic cable. And late last week, state officials confirmed that about 1,800 exams had to be invalidated after some students were administered the wrong grade level of TNReady online.

Despite the frequent interruptions, state education officials have pushed forward to complete the exams by next week and say this year’s TNReady is two-thirds of the way finished.

Last week, state lawmakers passed two pieces of legislation designed to keep this year’s scores from counting against students, teachers, schools, and districts.

Educators and legislators have expressed widespread concern about the reliability of the results, especially for older students taking them online. However, Elizabeth Fiveash, an assistant commissioner over policy and legislative affairs, told lawmakers last week that no evidence thus far indicates that the results will be unreliable. She also promised that the department will examine the issue further.

This story has been updated.