Take 2: Williamson Students Help Pilot New Online Testing Platform


After an online standardized testing platform failed to perform properly during the past year, the Tennessee Department of Education has piloted a new online system with 9,000 high school students in 12 districts, including Williamson.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced last week that the department had piloted Nextera, the online assessment platform used by the state’s new testing vendor, Questar.

This pilot is the first step in a series of actions the state and districts are taking this year to ensure Nextera is ready for high school students who may take TNReady End of Course exams online in the spring.

Students in grades 3-8 will still take tests on paper until a phase-in period is complete.

This trial run of Nextera, which occurred on Thursday, was designed to see how the platform performed in real time at Tennessee high schools. The dozen participating districts represent the technological diversity and types of infrastructure found in Tennessee’s schools, allowing the department to check how the platform is performing in a variety of settings and on a variety of devices. This trial was intentionally structured to be as minimally disruptive as possible, while providing valuable information about the readiness of the state’s testing vendor, Questar, for online administration in Tennessee. Questar has successfully used Nextera in other states in the past.

“Our goal is for high school students to have a positive experience taking their End of Course test, and it is our responsibility to ensure our vendor is ready for our schools. This pilot has been incredibly helpful to inform both our work at the state, as well as districts looking to pursue online testing for their high school students,” McQueen said. “We must prepare our students for their future, which requires comfort with technology. The results of this pilot provide further encouragement in our approach to phase-in online testing for students over the next three years.”

Thursday’s pilot served as one of the early proof points of online readiness for both Nextera and schools. In the contract with Questar that was finalized this summer, the department required the vendor demonstrate that Nextera performs consistently well across the state before online testing can begin. Additionally, districts must have high school students take online practice tests, testing coordinators must attend training, and districts and schools must have secure browsers installed on their devices prior to opting in to online testing next spring. High school students on block schedule will take their End of Course assessments on paper this fall, and districts will choose whether to opt into online testing in spring 2017 for high school students only. Students in grades 3-8 will take TNReady on paper.

While the department will continue to gather feedback and data from the pilot over the coming days, overall, results indicate the product was performing as expected in Tennessee. While some functional issues appeared in limited cases, all are being addressed. The department and Questar will use the results from the pilot to strengthen the platform, and high school students and teachers will again have access to it starting in November for practice. The department will continue to evaluate and strengthen the platform over the course of the practice windows.

Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for their high school students this year. As part of the multi-year phase-in approach, the department is gradually moving to include more students taking online assessments, with a paper option always available for the youngest learners.

Districts and schools that participated in Thursday’s pilot were asked earlier this month whether they would be interested in supporting the pilot and have partnered closely with the department and Questar to prepare. The list includes:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Claiborne County Schools
  • Fayetteville City Schools
  • Fentress County Schools
  • Jackson County Schools
  • Jackson-Madison County School District
  • Knox County Schools
  • Rutherford County Schools
  • Tennessee School for the Blind
  • Tennessee School for the Deaf
  • Trousdale County Schools
  • Williamson County Schools

The department will continue to post updates about TNReady on TNReady.gov. For media inquiries, contact Sara Gast at (615) 532-6260 or [email protected].