State: TNReady tests’ failure not caused by cyber attack

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — This spring's shutdown of online TNReady tests was caused by software problems and not a deliberate attack by hackers or cut communications cable as previously thought, the Tennessee Department of Education said Tuesday.

State officials said they will lower the amount paid to vendor Questar by $2.5 million "to account for the substandard performance issues we experienced under the current contract and the costs incurred by the state in addressing the issues this spring."

In the meantime, Questar says it has identified the issue and resolved it.

"We have applied a configuration change and believe to have resolved the issue," Questar’s Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner said.

Problems arose back in April when students in Shelby County, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and other school districts across Tennessee tried to log on to take their standardized tests. The problems caused delays in testing, and Shelby County school officials decided that results wouldn't count against students.

At the time, Questar and the state blamed the problems on an outside attack, causing the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to look into the matter.

But state officials say it was actually caused by its own programmers making an unauthorized change to text-to-speech capabilities in the testing software.

The state said it will release requests for new contracts for vendors in the 2019-2020 school year. In the meantime, they've made changes to Questar's contrat to ensure certain standards this upcoming school year.

Questar was originally set to be paid around $30 million for the TNReady system, according to state records.

We reached out to Shelby County Schools for a comment on this new information, but have yet to hear back.

Questar said it will continue to investigate and work with outside investigators.

However, state officials said, "We are not permitted to provide information about the third-party reviewers nor copies of their reports."