It wasn’t a cyberattack that took down TNReady exams earlier this year but an error by the testing company. External investigators and the state comptroller made the conclusion after reviewing the crash that disrupted standardized tests statewide.
Thousands of students across Tennessee experienced delays logging onto computerized exams during April’s TNReady testing period, and when it happened, testing vendor Questar said the problem appeared to be
a denial of service attack. That’s when hackers take down a network by flooding it with data.
But now investigators — and even Questar itself — say the company’s own programmers caused the problem by making configuration changes to a cache server. It was overwhelmed when test takers attempted to access a text-to-speech feature, and the problem wasn’t discovered until well into the testing period, after Questar hired an outside firm to look into the situation.
Officials from the state Department of Edudcation say the alterations to the cache server were made without their approval and, therefore, Questar’s fault.
They presented that conclusion to a panel of state lawmakers on Wednesday, but several members weren’t ready to let the department completely off the hook. Nashville Democrat Bo Mitchell castigated officials for circulating Questar’s claims of a cyberattack without being sure.
“And it’s also unacceptable that this company has a contract after this many times of failures,” he said.
State officials say they will dock Questar $2.5 million dollars for the error — out of the $30 million the company is to be paid for this past year’s exams. Officials have already
reduced Questar’s role in next year’s TNReady tests.
But lawmakers warn that unless those exams go smoothly, computerized tests could be shut down entirely.