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How did Tennessee testing go this year? An investigator is about to ask 64,000 educators

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Tennessee’s chief internal investigator is turning to educators for a review of the state’s troubled student testing system and the company overseeing the exam.

The state comptroller’s office will email separate surveys this week to public school teachers and superintendents. It also seeks to connect with testing coordinators for every school district, according to an email sent late last week to district superintendents.

“The results of all of these surveys are truly anonymous,” wrote Dan Willis, the comptroller’s assistant director for training and information systems.

Inquiries into TNReady and testing company Questar come as the state Department of Education winds down more than three weeks of standardized testing that’s been beset with problems, particularly malfunctions with the computerized version taken by high schoolers statewide and in middle grades in some districts.

The survey represents the first public action taken by the state’s chief auditor since a review was requested April 24 by Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell and Rep. Jeremy Faison, chairman of the House Government Operations Committee.

The comptroller’s office expects to collect the surveys through this month and present early results in late June to the Government Operations Committee, spokesman John Dunn said Monday.

In all, about 64,000 educators will be invited to share their TNReady experience, said Dunn, adding that the information will go directly to the comptroller’s office.

Dunn declined to share questions from the survey. But a request from House leaders offers some insights into the motivation behind the review.

Harwell and Faison asked if the state’s $30 million-a-year contract with Minnesota-based Questar includes provisions that would allow the state to recover money due to testing failures this spring. Their letter also asks if Questar is contractually required to protect all student testing data — a reference to the company’s report that an April 17 cyber attack disrupted Tennessee students taking TNReady online on the second day of testing. Officials with Questar and the state Department of Education maintain that no student information was compromised.

Tennessee’s two-year contract with Questar ends on Nov. 30, and the state either will have to stick with the firm or search for its third testing vendor in four years. Education Commissioner Candice McQueen fired Measurement Inc., the first overseer of the TNReady era, after technical problems ruined the test’s online rollout in 2016.

Leaders of the state’s largest teachers union said Monday that they welcome the chance for teachers to weigh in on testing challenges in 2018.

“We’ve been getting tons and tons of calls and emails with different anecdotes across the state of testing inconsistencies,” said Amanda Chaney, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Education Association.

Added TEA president Barbara Gray: “We have concerns about the reliability and the validity of the test scores after so many stops and starts, so maybe this survey will help answer some of our questions.”

TNReady testing continues online through Wednesday. As of the beginning of this week, more than 80 percent of computerized exams were complete, state officials reported.

The letter requesting the comptroller’s review is below:

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