TNReady student testing “attack” prompts apology, investigation

Political News

Trouble over the last two days with the critical TNReady tests brought an apology from Tennessee’s education commissioner and word late Wednesday of an investigation. 

It came as Commissioner Candice McQueen appeared before a joint session of the Tennessee House Education and Government Operations Committee after what she termed a “deliberate attack” on the statewide tests Tuesday. 

“I want to first apologize to all of our teachers our parents our students and staff who have been handling these issues with great patience and grace and positive attitude over the last couple of days,” McQueen said as she began her testimony in what became an almost two-hour hearing. 

The commissioner told lawmakers the issues that stalled the critical tests Tuesday were “consistent with a cyber-attack.” 

Commissioner McQueen said the Minnesota-based vendor Questar– who is administering the tests– is trying to find out what happened, but indicated the state is moving forward with the online testing which she says worked for tens of thousands of students Wednesday. 

All through the hearing, lawmakers of both parties vented frustrations they have been hearing from their districts across Tennessee. 

One Democrat even repeated his call for her to resign, but the education commissioner said she won’t. 

“As a manager, you have been unable to get ahold of this problem,” said Nashville Democrat Rep. Mike Stewart. 

Afterwards, the commissioner was asked about restoring confidence lawmakers say has been shaken for the TNRready tests. 

“The actual action where you are having success in the online environment is what restores confidence,” McQueen responded. “I will remind everyone we are in an online transition–one of only ten states that has not had this transition. Every state that has had transition has had a challenge.” 

Late Wednesday, the Commissioner’s office released a statement about how the TNReady issue of a deliberate attack will be addressed by McQueen. 

“She has pursued official channels through the Davidson County District Attorney General to formally engage the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the State Office of Homeland Security in an investigation into yesterday’s TNReady traffic pattern that was consistent with an online attack” began the statement from her office. “She and her team initially engaged TBI and their cyber security expertise in a briefing yesterday and worked through various channels today to officially engage them alongside the State Office of Homeland Security. Commissioner McQueen also announced today that the department is initiating the engagement of a third party with cyber security expertise to analyze testing vendor Questar’s response to the possible cyber-attack yesterday.” 

The statement went on to say “there continues to be zero evidence that any student information or data was compromised in the incident” and “We had a smooth day of testing today, with more than 150,000 online test sessions completed – the highest one-day total ever for online testing in Tennessee.” 

We had a smooth day of testing today, with more than 150,000 online test sessions completed – the highest one-day total ever for online testing in Tennessee. About 300,000 students will take TNReady online this year, and while those students will participate in multiple test sessions, the statistics we see today confirm that we are able to move forward successfully with online testing. 

Many lawmakers though remain wary and plan to monitor what happens as 300,000 Tennessee kids take the TNReady tests. 

“There will be a measure of confidence that comes back to the TDOE once a change is made.” added Republican Rep. Jeremy Faison.  “I’m thankful to see the the TBI has been engaged.  The TBI is extremely thorough.” 

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