As backlash by the public and district superintendents grew and a likely lawsuit by Amplify loomed, NC Superintendent Mark Johnson agreed on Friday to change the implementation plan for the Istation reading tool. Characterized as a “delay,” the change was an obvious attempt at appeasement. However, it isn’t actually a delay, it causes more problems than it solves, and it certainly won’t appease anyone who’s been paying attention to the Istation contract fiasco.
Johnson’s new plan came after the Executive Board of the North Carolina School Superintendents’ Association sent a letter to the state superintendent formally requesting that Johnson ask the General Assembly for a one year reprieve on implementing the new computer-based K-3 reading assessment.
The plan has been broadly described as a “delay,” leading some to believe that schools will not begin using Istation when schools open. That’s absolutely incorrect.
Johnson said in a conference call with State Board of Education members on Friday, “We want to go ahead and get into schools but give all of September, October, November, December to be months where students and teachers are learning this new tool and then no metrics are measured until January.”
Essentially what this means is there will be no measurement of student achievement for official benchmark (EVAAS) purposes until the school year is halfway finished. However, training and practice with the computer-based tool for kindergarten to third grade students will proceed as planned. Actually, it’s already underway.
Johnson’s half-hearted bid at allaying concerns over the impossibly short implementation timeline fails to acknowledge the scope of the Istation fiasco. There are a whole lot more worms in the can.
The superintendent’s unexpected unilateral decision to award the K-3 literacy screener contract to Istation disregarded input by two knowledgeable teams of professional educators who participated in the evaluation process and recommended continued use of Amplify’s mClass tool.
When news that Johnson had ignored input by the evaluation teams in selecting Istation reached the public, the Superintendent and his representatives falsely claimed the committees had not reached consensus and had not recommended mClass. Many have filed public records requests for written notes, rankings, and votes compiled by the committees. DPI’s Communications Department has yet to produce the requested documents as required by state law.
Superintendent Johnson continues to attempt to hide information about the flawed contract process behind non-disclosure agreements signed by those who participated in evaluating mClass and Istation on DPI’s behalf. However, it’s crystal clear in the language of those agreements that any expectation of confidentiality ended when Johnson awarded the contract to Istation on June 7.
In terms of the tools themselves, there are a whole host of reasons why the committees recommended mClass over Istation, not one of which will be resolved just by delaying use of data six months.
One of the most important advantages of the mClass screener has to do with screening for dyslexia. In 2017 the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law mandating that students with specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia “receive the necessary and appropriate screenings” and tasking local boards of education with reviewing “diagnostic tools and screening instruments used for dyslexia…to ensure that they are age-appropriate and effective.”
On the Friday conference call with State Board members, DPI K-3 Literacy Director Tara Galloway said she was “confident” the Istation tool is effective at screening for dyslexia. However, effective screening for dyslexia requires having a reader produce sounds and read words to determine whether phonological processing problems are present. Because Istation is an online tool, its phonological awareness measure is limited to having students listen to a sound and match it with an answer choice instead of actually segmenting individual sounds out from a spoken word by producing it on their own. This approach is inconsistent with the International Dyslexia Association’s recommendations on dyslexia assessment and appears to fall short of meeting the General Assembly’s legislative mandate as well. The mClass tool which has been in statewide use since 2013 aligns much more closely with those requirements.
Istation is the wrong choice for our youngest readers. The process our state superintendent followed to procure it was deeply flawed and suspicious, and his response to the backlash has been riddled with deliberate misinformation.
This thing is a long way from over.