Tennessee lawmakers were surprised to hear that widespread grading errors in the new standardized test might have gone undetected if not for a school's concern about a high performing student. This week legislators are holding a hearing on problems with TNReady.
The tests looked OK and the answer keys matched up, says Nakia Towns, who oversees standardized testing for the state. But Rutherford County had a school where a teacher was confused why a smart kid would miss so many answers in a certain subject.
"So the question that came back to us was essentially, 'We have this really high performing student, and we're curious as to why that student would not be doing well on this particular standard,'" Towns said Tuesday.
Education officials took responsibility for the problem but argued that this is the kind of error that only a school could identify.
"From our side, it all lined up," Towns said.
The testing company told lawmakers that the student had "the right marks in the wrong places." So Questar looked at everyone else who had that same version of the TNReady test, and more than 9,000 had a similar problem. Of those where the errors affected their overall grade, Nashville had the largest number.
"What had happened was the scanner of the paper document had actually misread what the student responses were, and that was only able to be able to be identified by the vendor," Towns said.
The grading errors are being fixed and account for less than 1 percent of all tests. But some legislators are asking for a third-party review. A few say it would be better if the state didn't have to rely on an outside vendor.
This year's grading problems follow years of testing controversy, which included firing a vendor and scrapping last year's computer-based testing because of statewide glitches. Many teachers paraded before education committees, though, and asked lawmakers to stay the course.
"I just want to ask, don't make any changes," Knoxville teacher August Askins said. "The last thing I need right now is a change in the testing vendor and another three to four years of working out the kinks."