NC Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s too-late Istation love shows he doesn’t understand how assessments work

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Late Wednesday, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest weighed in on the Istation controversy.  

In a statement posted to his official social media channels, Forest blasted the State Board of Education’s decision to delay voting on a $1.2 million Istation contract extension while waiting for the General Assembly to grant a formative assessment waiver due to the ongoing statewide COVID-19 school closure:

Dan-Forest-Istation-statement

It’s worth noting that Forest is expressing his passionate albeit misinformed opinion about the matter nearly a week too late.  As a member of the State Board himself, Dan Forest had the opportunity to attend the March 27 meeting, participate in the lengthy conversation that preceded the board’s decision, and then actually cast his vote. 

Forest didn’t show up for the meeting.

The Lieutenant Governor’s office did not respond to an inquiry about the reason for his absence.

Forest’s claims about assessment in the statement warrant further attention.

Take a look at this part:

I am very interested to see how students learn and progress during distance learning, but you cannot gather a true understanding of how students grew (or didn’t) by eliminating diagnostic tools during this COVID-19 statewide school closure. Diagnostic tools, like Istation, show parents and teachers how much a student has grown in a subject by continually tracking the student’s progress, rather than administering a standardized EOG test.

Forest is 100% right that it’s important for educators to “gather a true understanding” of student growth.  

The key word there is “true.”

When reading assessments are administered, the test normally occurs under controlled circumstances with a trained administrator who can monitor student engagement and ensure a distraction-free testing environment.  This administration ensures accurate results, also known as validity.

Validity of formative assessment results is important enough that it’s codified in Read to Achieve legislation, which states “Kindergarten, first, second, and third grade students shall be assessed with valid, reliable, formative, and diagnostic reading assessments…”

I shouldn’t have to remind anyone that the circumstances we’re all living under are anything but controlled.

Reading assessments administered to students at home cannot yield valid data because we cannot ensure the appropriate conditions.  We can’t even tell who is actually taking the assessment or ensure the assessment is available to all students while schools are closed.

In other words, a “true understanding” of student growth is not possible at present.  For Dan Forest to suggest that it is possible demonstrates–at best–a basic lack of understanding of how assessment works.

North Carolina schools will be closed until at least May 15, and as COVID-19 infection rates continue to rise exponentially, odds seem fairly high that closures will continue past that date.  With end of year testing already cancelled, it seems all but certain that the General Assembly will issue a waiver eliminating the formative assessment requirement for this year.

Considering the unusual circumstances North Carolinians are living under, the State Board’s decision to table a vote on the Istation contract pending General Assembly action was absolutely the right move to make. 

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1 thought on “NC Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s too-late Istation love shows he doesn’t understand how assessments work

  1. I hope teachers and parents will contact the board members who voted not to spend $1.2 million to continue iStation for April and May especially since students will probably not go back to school this school year so it would have been a waste of tax payers money.

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