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Johnson County spared by TNReady testing cyber attack

By Jill Penley
Freelance Writer


Under the direction of House Speaker Beth Harwell, R–Nashville, State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R–Cosby, has officially requested a review by the Tennessee Comptroller related to the recent testing issues of the TNReady school assessments.The request follows several days of problems tied to TNReady’s online testing platform, the most significant of which occurred on Tuesday, April 17, when the Department of Education reported its testing vendor, Questar, had experienced a cyber-attack on its computer system. Reportedly, the day before and after this attack, many students were unable to log into or complete their tests.
Fortunately, that was not the case locally.

“We were fortunate here in Johnson County,” said Dr. Mischelle Simcox, Director of Schools. “The vast majority of last week’s issues did not impact us.”
These tests are vitally important to students, teachers, and schools across Tennessee because they count for large portions of final student grades as well as teacher evaluations and school rankings. “We acknowledge that state testing has been very frustrating for students and teachers all across the state,” said Simcox. “We share everyone’s concerns about the amount of testing and the timeframes.

In response to the plethora of issues with TNReady, the State Senate passed legislation, supported by State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, to hold teachers and students harmless in the TNReady testing assessments conducted for the 2017-2018 school year. Many state lawmakers and educational administrators remain bewildered with the testing debacle and insist Questar must be held accountable.

“While we may have figured out a temporary fix for this year’s TNReady problems, there are still questions that need to be answered, especially related to the contract with the testing vendor,” said Faison. “We need to get all of the facts before us, so we’re able to make the decisions necessary to best benefit the futures of our students, teachers, and school administrators.”

A few of the specific questions posed by Faison during initial talks with Comptroller Wilson include:
•Are there clawback provisions available, financial or otherwise, for failures in testing procedures?
A “clawback provision” is a special contractual clause typically included in employment contracts by financial firms, by which money already paid must be paid back under certain conditions.
•Is Questar required through their contract to act in full faith and fidelity in ensuring testing problems are solved?
•Is Questar contractually required to protect all student testing data? If so, what remedies are available for any personal information accessed or lost during the system’s cyber-attack?

Interestingly, Questar’s $30 million annual contract with Tennessee’s Department of Education expires this year.“We owe it to our students and parents to ensure that their personal and confidential information is not compromised, and what steps will be taken to ensure that information is not vulnerable,” Harwell said. “These assessments are important for accountability, and we need teachers, administrators, parents, and students to have confidence in the integrity of the test.”