State plans to withhold $2.5 million from online testing vendor

State plans to withhold $2.5 million from online testing vendor

The Tennessee Department of Education today announced that $2.5 million would be subtracted from the invoice of online testing vendor Questar to account for substandard performance issues under the current contract and the costs incurred by the state in addressing the issues with the spring TNReady assessments.

Technical problems began on April 16, the first day of online testing, including slowdowns, difficulties logging on, and other performance problems initially blamed on a cyber attack.

“It is now clear that the event that Questar initially thought presented like a denial of service attack on Tuesday, April 17, was not created by an external actor with malicious intent, but, rather, can be traced in large part to the caching issues connected to how text-to-speech was configured by Questar,” a department press release said. “It appears, thankfully, that there was not an outside actor who attacked Questar’s data system. No student data was breached.”

The announcement to reduce the payment to Questar follows an announcement last week by Education Commissioner Candice McQueen that the state intended to finding a vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state tests in 2019-20 and beyond.

According to the department, Questar implemented a significant and unauthorized change to text-to-speech software, which had operated successfully during the state’s fall administration, but led to the severity of other issues we experienced during online testing.

“Questar’s internal and external investigations indicate that the source of the anomalous data pattern is believed to be the result of a configuration with the cache server,” Questar’s Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner said in a prepared statement. “We have applied a configuration change and believe to have resolved the issue. We will continue to work with our internal technology team and external partners to validate this.”

The Education Department reported that Questar is cooperating with additional external audits and continues their own internal investigation. Questar is executing a contract with a third-party expert to do an in-depth analysis of their technological capabilities.

In addition, the state is amending the current contract with Questar “to improve the assessment experience in 2018-19.”

The state is in the second year of a two-year contract with Questar of up to $30 million each year.

“We only pay for the services we receive,” said Sara Gast, communications director for the state Department of Education.

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