Tennessee Suspects School Testing Disruptions Were a 'Deliberate Attack'

State education officials say the company handling the online portion of TNReady could've faced a 'deliberate' attack, but there are no signs yet that student data was compromised.

by Meghan Mangrum, Chattanooga Times/Free Press / April 18, 2018
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(TNS) — The company handling Tennessee's statewide grade school testing might have experienced "a deliberate attack," according to state education officials.

Hamilton County Schools stopped TNReady testing for the day when students began experiencing issues logging in to the platform and will most likely not resume today, according to Tim Hensley, spokesman for the district.

"It appears Questar's data center may have experienced a deliberate attack this morning based on the way traffic is presenting itself. They are currently resetting the system. However, the attacker may take these same steps again, and Questar is actively working on further reinforcements, including notifying authorities," according to an email that Education Commissioner Candice McQueen sent to directors of schools across the state Tuesday morning.

Student data was not compromised, according to McQueen's update, but today's testing problems come after a day of login issues after the testing period began Monday.

According to the Tennessean, students in Shelby, Williamson and Knox County schools have experienced issues with the testing platform.

In Hamilton County, nine schools were affected Monday morning between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. when students were unable to access Questar's online platform, Nextera.

Testing historically has been a problem for the state. Last year, state officials announced nearly 10,000 assessments were scored incorrectly by Questar. At the time, school officials said three Hamilton County schools were affected.

In 2016, Tennessee terminated its contract with Measurement Inc. after the North Carolina company's online platform failed in a number of districts. After the failure, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen directed districts to stop testing online.

The state then was forced to suspend testing for grades 3 through 8 after the company was unable to get backup paper tests to a number of schools.

After yesterday's incident, House Government Operations Chairman Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, told The Tennessean he will request — if the committee meets Tuesday — that McQueen or an education department representative appear before the group.

"It's on the commissioner's shoulders at this point. And we're tired of it," said Rep. Ron Lollar, R-Bartlett, during the committee's Monday meeting.

At this time, it is unclear if the committee will meet with education department officials today.

McQueen's morning update urged schools to continue testing if students were able to do so.

"If you are testing, please continue. When a student is finished, please pause the test and note which student has used which machine, as students' tests are stored on that specific device. Again, the software is designed to save students' work, so if their testing session is disrupted, they can resume and submit their answers later. We will notify you when the system is back up, and the students can return to that device and submit," the statement read. "New students will likely not be able to log-in this morning, but we anticipate they will be able to do so this afternoon. We will be in touch as soon as possible with an update."

©2018 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.