Tennessee officials won’t talk about the state’s ongoing dispute with the testing company it fired last year, but the company’s president is.
Henry Scherich says Tennessee owes Measurement Inc. $25.3 million for services associated with TNReady, the state’s new standardized test for its public schools. That’s nearly a quarter of the company’s five-year, $108 million contract with the state, which Tennessee officials canceled after technical problems roiled the test’s 2016 rollout.
So far, the state has paid the Durham, North Carolina-based company about $545,000 for its services, representing about 2 percent of the total bill, according to a claim recently obtained by Chalkbeat.
Measurement Inc. filed the claim with the state in February in an effort to get the rest of the money that it says it’s owed. Since then, lawyers for both sides have been in discussions, and the company filed a lawsuit in June with the Tennessee Claims Commission. The commission has directed the State Department of Education to respond to the complaint by Nov. 30.
“We’re moving forward,” Scherich told Chalkbeat when asked about the status of the talks. “… We’re simply asking to be paid for the services we provided.”
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen declined to discuss the dispute, which she called “an ongoing pending lawsuit.” A spokesman for the attorney general’s office also declined to comment on Nov. 13.
Scherich said he and other company officials have not been called to Nashville for hearings or depositions.
“Our lawyers and the state’s lawyers are still skirmishing each other,” Scherich said. “…They argue about lots of things. It’s kind of like we’re establishing the ground rules for how this process is going to proceed.”
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced the firing of Measurement Inc. and the suspensions of most testing in April 2016.
Tennessee’s dramatic testing failure started on Feb. 8, 2016, when students logged on during the first morning of testing and were unable to load TNReady off the new online platform developed by Measurement Inc. The fallout culminated several months later when McQueen fired the company and canceled testing altogether for grades 3-8. In between were months of delays after McQueen instructed districts to revert to paper-and-pencil materials that would be provided by Measurement Inc. under the terms of their contract. Many of those materials never arrived.
The company’s claim suggests that the state was hasty in its decision to cancel online testing and therefore shares blame for a year of incomplete testing.
The Tennessee Department of Education “unilaterally and unjustifiably ordered the cancellation of all statewide electronic testing that occurred on February 8, 2016, following a transitory slowdown of network services that morning,” the claim says.
(In an exclusive interview with Chalkbeat the day before his company was fired, Scherich said Measurement Inc.’s online platform did not have enough servers for the 48,000 students who logged on that first day — a problem that he said could have been fixed eventually.)
The claim also charges that McQueen’s subsequent order to substitute paper test materials was “unnecessary and irresponsible” and impossible to meet because of the logistical challenge of printing and distributing them statewide in a matter of weeks.
In her letter terminating the state’s contracts with Measurement Inc., McQueen describes daily problems with the company’s online platform in the months leading up to the botched launch. “This was not just a testing day hiccup; the online platform failed to function on day one of testing,” she wrote.
McQueen said those experiences contributed to her department’s conclusion that Measurement Inc. was unable to provide a reliable, consistent online platform and left her with no option but to order paper and pencil tests. She also cited the company’s failure to meet its own paper test delivery deadlines for her ultimate decision to terminate the contracts and suspend testing.
The last sentence of the four-page termination letter says the state would “work with (Measurement Inc.) to determine reconciliation for appropriate compensation due, if any, for services and deliverables that have been completed as of the termination date after liquidated damages have been assessed.”
In addition to its invoices for work under the contract, Scherich said his company is owed another $400,000 for delivering test-related materials to the state after its contract was ended. This is why people should get contract management software as it is then easier to keep up to date with everything that is going on so that this sort of problem doesn’t happen.
“We didn’t want to be a company that stood in the way of the programs of the state of Tennessee, so we provided all the information they requested,” Scherich said. “We were told we would be paid, we provided the information, and then we’ve not been paid.”
Founded in 1980, Measurement Inc. had been doing testing-related work for Tennessee for more than a decade before being awarded the 2014 TNReady contract, its biggest job ever. The company had a fast deadline — only a year — to create the state’s test for grades 3-11 math and English language arts after a vote months earlier by the legislature prompted Tennessee to pull out of PARCC, a consortium of other states with a shared Common Core-aligned assessment.
Scherich said the loss of the TNReady contract was “a major hit” for his company, but that Measurement Inc. has paid every employee and subcontractor who worked on the project. “We have had to go into debt to keep ourselves viable while we wait for this situation with Tennessee to be resolved,” he said, adding that the company continues to do work in about 20 other states.
To pursue its claim, Measurement Inc. has hired the Tennessee law firm of Lewis, Thomason, King, Krieg & Waldrop, which has offices in Nashville and Knoxville.
“I’m sure we’ll work out something amicable with the state over time,” he said. “I’m an optimistic person. But I think our lawyers and their lawyers will have to have a lot of negotiations.”
To read Measurement Inc.’s claim against the state, as well as the state’s letter terminating its contracts with the company, go online to http://bit.ly/TNReadyLawsuit.
MARTA ALDRICH writes for Chalkbeat Tennessee, a nonprofit news organization committed to covering one of American’s most important stories: The effort to improve schools for all children, especially those who have historically lacked access to a quality education. The Bartlett Express reprints selected Chalkbeat articles with permission. Contact Aldrich at firstname.lastname@example.org.