- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The state of Tennessee on Wednesday abruptly terminated a $107.7 million contract with a testing company following repeated failures with the rollout of the new assessment called TNReady.

State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the state had been forced to suspend student testing in grades 3 through 8 because the company had not been able to ship the test materials to students on time.

McQueen described the relationship between the state and North Carolina-based testing company Measurement Inc. as “tumultuous,” and said the company’s contract was terminated after it revised its deadline for shipping the tests to students three times in April.

The state no longer had faith that kids would get the tests by May 10, she said, and education officials didn’t want to go beyond that date because they didn’t want to interrupt school trips, field days and fun events normally planned for kids at the end of the school year.

“The failure of this vendor has let down the teachers and students of our state,” McQueen said.

The TNReady test has been hailed as a smarter assessment that better gauges a student’s critical-thinking skills, but the delivery of the test has been plagued by problems. The assessment was originally designed to be taken online. But computer glitches prevented students from taking the test on the first day of state testing in February. Afterward, McQueen, ordered the tests to be given the old-fashioned way - with paper and pencil. But a total of 2 million documents have yet to be shipped as of Wednesday, McQueen said.

“Throughout this tumultuous relationship, extending over many months, we have consistency lost confidence in MI and are incredibly frustrated by their lack of ability to perform and communicate.”

The CEO of MI said he was disappointed by the loss of the contract.

“I don’t understand their decision at all,” said president and CEO Henry “Hank” Scherich. “But they made the decision, so that’s what it is. We were very close to having them all shipped.”

He said McQueen’s decision to go to pencil and paper forced the company scramble to get millions of test materials printed and shipped to schools in only a few months. “I think this is the largest printing and shipping job that any testing company has done in this three-month period of time.”

McQueen said paper testing was always listed as a backup in the contract. Students had already taken the first part of the test.

The state awarded the company the contract for work from 2015-2020. Tennessee has only paid out $1.6 million for the development of the TNReady test and McQueen said the state won’t pay for the company’s failures. She also said that content of the test belongs to Tennessee and the state would still be able to use it with a new vendor to develop a new test. McQueen continued to praise the quality of the test itself, even as she expressed frustration with the failure to get it to students.

Federal law requires students to take tests, and McQueen said her office had been updating U.S. Department of Education officials about the tests not getting to the kids.

High school students had gotten the tests and were taking them, she said. She said the state would be expediting a search for a new vendor to both score the high school tests and develop a new test for next year.

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