Questar to bid for new testing contract with Tennessee

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The company that administers Tennessee’s problem-plagued student assessment testing program says it still plans on throwing its hat in the ring to secure a new state contract so they can continue overseeing the same service in the fall.

Officials with Questar Assessment Inc. confirmed this week their plans to participate in the bidding process. The announcement comes just a few weeks after both state auditors and top education officials largely pointed to the company as the key culprit for the longtime failures of the TNReady test.

“Questar Assessment is planning to bid for the TNReady contract,” said Questar Assessment Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner, in a Thursday statement. “We believe we have the right people and processes in place to best serve the state of Tennessee.”

Questar added that it “does not agree with several of the Tennessee comptroller’s findings,” but the company says it appreciated being included in the audit process.

Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam said the state plans on contracting with a new vendor and is currently preparing the contracting process.

Shortly after, auditors released a lengthy report in December that held both the state and Questar accountable for failing to monitor and evaluate the testing program. However, the audit specifically pointed to Questar for failing to adequately staff customer support and the decision to switch its text-to-speech software which resulted in not only lengthy testing disruptions, but also led officials to briefly speculate the system was experiencing a cyberattack.

“We believe we have the right people and processes in place to best serve the state of Tennessee.” -Questar Assessment Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner”

Baumgartner says Questar has since improved its “outbound” communication with state and school district staff and its customer support centers will continue to be properly staffed. The company says it also never indicated that a “cyberattack was certain.”

Additionally, fall testing that occurred late last year was deemed a success by both the state and Questar due to the lack of disruptions and technology challenges.

Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Sara Gast declined to comment to Questar’s response, saying the agency had already addressed the audit

At the time, Gast said “Questar’s performance was the root of the issues we experienced this spring.”

In 2016, the state cancelled its five-year $108 million contract with a testing company because of repeated failures, including the inability of students to get online to take the tests and later with problems getting paper assessments shipped to schools on time.

Then in 2017, state officials announced that nearly 10,000 of the tests were scored incorrectly. The following year, lawmakers scrambled during the final days of the legislative session to pass last-minute legislation ensuring no students, teachers or schools suffered as a result of repeated failures with the state assessment test.

That’s because state law says teachers must be evaluated partly based on the tests, as well as students and schools.


Questar Assessment Inc. Responds to TN Comptroller Report

Minneapolis, MN, January 3, 2019 — Questar Assessment Inc. is committed to serving Tennessee, its teachers, students, and parents. Following the 2018 Spring administration of TNReady, Questar Assessment hired an outside firm to perform a comprehensive review of its processes. Questar immediately implemented several recommendations and will continue to implement others prior to the 2019 Spring administration.

“We understand the frustration with TNReady testing last spring,” says Questar Assessment Chief Operating Officer Brad Baumgartner. “We have a long history of successfully serving our customers, and we look forward to continuing those partnerships in the future.”

While Questar does not agree with several of the Tennessee Comptroller’s findings, we appreciate the thorough nature of the audit and inclusion in the process.

“Questar has always held the position that the pattern of data discovered during Spring TNReady administration was consistent with what could have been an attack, but we did not at any time indicate that a cyberattack was certain,” Baumgartner says.

In response to the Comptroller’s finding that Questar Assessment was not adequately staffed during testing, Questar has implemented a process to improve outbound communication with state and district staff should an event of this nature occur in the future.

“Because we had never experienced an issue of this magnitude, we had not developed appropriate outbound communication channels that would have better informed state and district staff. These channels are now in place, thanks to the work of the Tennessee Department of Education and Questar. Our centers will continue to be properly staffed for any additional questions,” Baumgartner says.

Fall testing has been successfully completed, and Questar is focused on the production and distribution of reports. Students across Tennessee took more than 72,000 tests, and the Tennessee Department of Education reported a smooth testing experience across all districts.

“We are not standing still. Questar Assessment is committed to continually advancing our processes, technology, and security,” Baumgartner says. “We look forward to serving Tennessee teachers and students this spring with the best testing experience possible.”

About Questar Assessment Inc.

Questar Assessment Inc. is a K–12 assessment solutions provider focused on building a bridge between learning and accountability. As a wholly-owned, independently-operated subsidiary of Educational Testing Service (ETS), Questar Assessment shares a belief that better measurement solutions can make a positive impact on education. Questar Assessment takes a fresh and innovative approach to design, delivery, scoring, analysis, and reporting. The company is reimagining how assessments can empower educators by giving them the insights they need to improve instruction and fully prepare students for college or career. The company’s high-quality, reliable assessment products and services are easily scaled and tailored to meet the specific needs of states and districts at an unprecedented valued. Educators trust Questar Assessment’s high-performing teams and dependable technology to minimize risks and ensure success for states, districts, schools, and students. Questar Assessment Inc. is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Learn more at questarai.com.




China becomes the third nation to land on the moon, joining U.S. and former U.S.S.R.

BEIJING (AP) — China’s burgeoning space program achieved a first on Thursday: a landing on the so-called dark side of the moon that brings the country closer to its goal of becoming a space power.

FILE – In this Dec. 8, 2018, file photo, and released by Xinhua News Agency, the Chang’e 4 lunar probe launches from the the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China’s Sichuan province. The official China Central Television says Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019, the lunar explorer Chang’e 4 had touched down at 10:26 a.m to make first-ever landing on the far side of the moon. (Jiang Hongjing/Xinhua via AP, File)

Three nations — the United States, the former Soviet Union and more recently China — have sent spacecraft to the near side of the moon, which faces Earth, but this landing is the first-ever on the far side.

The China National Space Administration said the 10:26 a.m. touchdown of the Chang’e 4 craft has “opened up a new chapter in human lunar exploration.”

A photo taken at 11:40 a.m. and sent back by Chang’e 4 shows a small crater and a barren surface that appears to be illuminated by a light from the lunar explorer. Its name comes from that of a Chinese goddess who, according to legend, has lived on the moon for millennia.

The landing highlights China’s growing ambitions to rival the U.S., Russia and Europe in space, and more broadly, to cement the nation’s position as a regional and global power.

“The space dream is part of the dream to make China stronger,” President Xi Jinping said in 2013, shortly after becoming China’s leader.

In year-end wrap-ups, Chinese media and officials hailed the Dec. 8 launch of Chang’e 4 as one of the nation’s major achievements in 2018. The landing on Thursday was announced to the public by state broadcaster CCTV at the top of the noon news.

“On the whole, China’s space technology still lags behind the West, but with the landing on the far side of the moon, we have raced to the front” ”

— Hou Xiyun, a professor at Nanjing University's school of astronomy and space science

“On the whole, China’s space technology still lags behind the West, but with the landing on the far side of the moon, we have raced to the front,” said Hou Xiyun, a professor at Nanjing University’s school of astronomy and space science.

He added that China has Mars, Jupiter and asteroids in its sights: “There’s no doubt that our nation will go farther and farther.”

In 2013, Chang’e 3, the predecessor craft to the current mission, made the first moon landing since the former Soviet Union’s Luna 24 in 1976. The United States is the only country that has successfully sent a person to the moon, though China is considering a crewed mission too.

For now, it plans to send a Chang’e 5 probe to the moon next year and have it return to Earth with samples — also not done since the Soviet mission in 1976.

This photo provided on Jan. 3, 2019, by China National Space Administration via Xinhua News Agency shows an image taken by China’s Chang’e-4 probe during its landing process. A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday, Jan. 3, made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, state media said. The lunar explorer Chang’e 4 touched down at 10:26 a.m., China Central Television said in a brief announcement at the top of its noon news broadcast. (China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency via AP)

The moon’s far side isn’t always dark but is sometimes called the dark side because it faces away from Earth and is relatively unknown. It has a different composition than the near side, where previous missions have landed.

Chang’e 4, a combined lander and rover, will make astronomical observations and probe the structure and mineral composition of the terrain above and below the surface.

“The far side of the moon is a rare quiet place that is free from interference from radio signals from Earth,” mission spokesman Yu Guobin said, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. “This probe can fill the gap of low-frequency observation in radio astronomy and will provide important information for studying the origin of stars and nebula evolution.”

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In this photo provided Jan. 3, 2019, by China National Space Administration via Xinhua News Agency, the first image of the moon’s far side taken by China’s Chang’e-4 probe. A Chinese spacecraft on Thursday, Jan. 3, made the first-ever landing on the far side of the moon, state media said. The lunar explorer Chang’e 4 touched down at 10:26 a.m., China Central Television said in a brief announcement at the top of its noon news broadcast.(China National Space Administration/Xinhua News Agency via AP)

One challenge of operating on the far side of the moon is communicating with Earth. China launched a relay satellite in May so that Chang’e 4 can send back information.

China conducted its first crewed space mission in 2003, becoming only the third country to do so after Russia and the U.S. It has put a pair of space stations into orbit and plans to launch a Mars rover in the mid-2020s. Its space program suffered a rare setback last year with the failed launch of its Long March 5 rocket.

Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the China Lunar Exploration Project, called the landing a trailblazing milestone.

“Building a space power is a dream that we persistently pursue,” he said in an interview with CCTV at the Beijing Aerospace Flight and Control Center. “And we’re gradually realizing it.”

As an Associated Press newspaper, the Hillsboro Globe regularly publishes AP articles on international news.




Edmunds recommends Labor Day car deals for bargain hunters

As the summer season winds down, the car-business clearance season ramps up.

Both car dealers and carmakers are offering deals to sell off the 2018 models and make room for the 2019s. Labor Day weekend will feature some of the best prices of the year to date.

Take, for example, the popular 2018 Ford F-150.

Over Memorial Day, the average discount was a little more than $7,000. Now that clearance season has started, discounts run as deep as $12,000 in some areas.

If you’re eager to pick the perfect car as opposed to being forced to choose from what’s left over, now is the time to shop.

More than 80 percent of cars sold in September will be 2018 models, according to Edmunds sales data.

By December, the 2018 inventory is projected to be about half that. So while discounts might be better at the end of the year, you may not have the choices you will now.

And if you’re concerned about car-cost increases because of rising interest rates or possible tariffs, that’s all the more reason to do some shopping now.

Our picks are based on three criteria: significant savings, good reviews by Edmunds’ test team and widespread availability. Specific discounts vary by region and may differ based on the trim level, and MSRP does not include destination fees.

These deals should be available through Sept. 4 and we’ve included a snapshot of the savings you might see in various regions. Curious about deals in your own area? Visit Edmunds and enter your ZIP code to see what’s available near you.

SUVs—

2018 CHEVROLET TAHOE (starting MSRP: $47,500. Savings up to $12,500 in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area)The Tahoe seats up to nine people in a cabin that’s quiet and nicely trimmed. On the downside, maneuvering in tight spaces is challenging.
2018 FORD ESCAPE (starting MSRP: $23,940. Savings up to $8,400 in the Houston area)The Escape’s steering and handling feel more like a car’s. For better punch, choose the turbocharged 2.0-liter engine on the Titanium trim level, but know it will cost you in terms of fuel economy.
2018 HYUNDAI SANTA FE (starting MSRP: $30,850. Savings up to $7,800 in the Los Angeles area)The Santa Fe offers great standard features for the money, even though its fuel economy is slightly subpar and its cargo capacity falls short of some competitors.
2018 NISSAN MURANO (starting MSRP: $30,800. Savings up to $9,800 in the Chicago area)The Murano delivers the right balance of power and fuel efficiency and has an interior with high-quality materials and a unique design. Although it’s an SUV, it lacks the heft to tow heavy boats or trailers.

SEDANS—

2018 CHEVROLET MALIBU (starting MSRP: $21,680. Savings up to $9,000 in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, area)There’s a spacious interior with lots of front-seat headroom. A downside is that the six-speed automatic can be unrefined at low speeds.
2018 HONDA ACCORD (starting MSRP: $23,570. Savings up to $5,500 in the Chicago area)The Accord’s turbocharged engines are powerful and fuel-efficient, and many advanced driver safety aids come standard. The low seating position slightly hampers entry and exit, however.
2018 INFINITI Q50 (starting MSRP: $35,200. Savings up to $9,400 in the Los Angeles area)The turbocharged V6 engines on upper trim levels pack plenty of power. Many high-tech entertainment and safety features are standard. A con is that the interior design is showing its age.
2018 KIA OPTIMA (starting MSRP: $22,600. Savings up to $7,200 in the Los Angeles area)The Optima offers more features for the money than most rivals and boasts an easy-to-use infotainment system. On the downside, the sloping roofline cuts into rear headroom and visibility.

TRUCKS—

2018 CHEVROLET COLORADO CREW CAB (starting MSRP: $26,300. Savings of up to $9,100 in the Miami area)The Colorado’s gasoline V6 and diesel four-cylinder engines can tow more than rivals. Its size gives it maneuverability. But its low-hanging front air dam limits off-road potential.
2018 CHEVROLET SILVERADO 1500 CREW CAB (starting MSRP $34,785. Savings up to $14,200 in the Miami area)The Silverado’s V8 engines offer quick acceleration and strong towing ability. The quiet cabin has front seats that are comfortable for long drives. It does feel heavier from behind the wheel than its competitors, however.
2018 FORD F-150 SUPERCREW (starting MSRP: $34,285. Savings of up to $12,000 in the Chicago area)The F-150’s available comfort and safety technology go from basic to luxurious, while multiple engine choices deliver exceptional balance of power and fuel economy.
However, its aluminum body panels tend to carry higher repair costs, and its fuel economy estimates couldn’t be had in Edmunds’ real-world testing.
EDMUNDS SAYS: Thanks to deep end-of-model-year discounts and plentiful inventory, Labor Day weekend is one of the best times of the year to buy a new car.



SMART NEWS: Summer drought in Central Europe reveals ancient “hunger stones.”

On of the so called “hunger stones” exposed by the low level of water in the Elbe river in Decin, Czech Republic, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. The low level of water caused by the recent drought has exposed some stones at the river bed whose appearances in history meant for people to get ready for troubles. They are known as the “hunger stones” and they were chosen in the past to record low water levels. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

DECIN, Czech Republic— Due to this summer’s drought in Central Europe, boulders known as “hunger stones” are reappearing in the Elbe River.  Due to scorching temperatures, the water in the river has dropped significantly, revealing boulders that were once used to record low water levels. The levels record more than one drought and the earliest drought recorded is attached in at 1616.

The low water levels in the river that begins in the Czech Republic then crosses Germany into the North Sea has exposed stones on the river bed whose appearances in history used to warn people that hard times were coming.

Over a dozen of the hunger stones, chosen to record low water levels, can now be seen in and near the northern Czech town of Decin near the German border.

But hunger stones did more than simply document drought: They also lamented difficult conditions and let people know that trouble was afoot. One of the rocks, for instance, “expressed that drought had brought a bad harvest, lack of food, high prices and hunger for poor people,” according to a 2013 study of drought in Czech lands. A German inscription on the same rock reads: “When you see me, weep.”

The stone, is considered the oldest hydrological landmark in Central Europe. This particular hunger stone has become a well-known tourist attraction in the Czech Republic, according to NPR’s Camila Domonoske.

It is among the oldest hydrological landmarks in Central Europe and, due to a dam that was built on a tributary of the Elbe in 1926, the rock can be seen approximately 126 days each year. But the low water levels in the Elbe today are nevertheless “exceptional,” Domonoske writes. Earlier this month, the Local reported that the river had reached its lowest levels in more than half a century.

People visit one of the so called “hunger stones” exposed by the low level of water in the Elbe river in Decin, Czech Republic, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. The low level of water caused by the recent drought has exposed some stones at the river bed whose appearances in history meant for people to get ready for troubles. They are known as the “hunger stones” and they were chosen in the past to record low water levels. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Throughout the summer, unusually hot and dry weather in Europe has revealed a slew of archaeological treasures, from a prehistoric henge in Ireland, to an ornate 17th century garden in England, to a lost German village once submerged underwater.

The hunger stones are not the first sunken relics to resurface in the Elbe this summer. Earlier this month, receding waters exposed unexploded bombs that may have been dumped in the Elbe after WWII.

Scientists are particularly concerned about the current European heatwave because its increased intensity has been linked to climate change. However, the dates listed on the hunger stones suggest that continental droughts have been a semi-regular occurrence.

A recent study, in fact, found that while 21st century droughts are “the most extreme droughts driven by precipitation deficits during the vegetation period,” they have not been as long or as severe as some of the historic droughts that have struck Europe over the past 250 years.

It is perhaps little wonder, then, that the Czech hunger stones bear ominous messages of impending troubles.

Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hunger-stones-emerge-drought-parched-czech-river-180970130/#HqP77yYHdP6CFwiF.99
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Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/hunger-stones-emerge-drought-parched-czech-river-180970130/#HqP77yYHdP6CFwiF.99