Check out Superintendent Mark Johnson’s whiny email about Istation’s expiration

Today just as the State Board of Education meeting was beginning, Superintendent Mark Johnson had DPI send the following message to the Department of Public Instruction’s email distribution list.

The message requires no editorializing, but I’d invite you to take a moment after reading it to celebrate the fact that Mark Johnson will not be in elected office next year.

Of course, guys like this usually land on their feet. I could see Mark Johnson having a very bright future in marketing for Istation.

Dear School Leaders,

We know these are challenging times, and we appreciate all of your efforts to support students, staff, and your community. While we don’t want to add to your workload, we have an obligation to make you aware of the consequences resulting from the expiration of the state’s Istation contract.

A majority of the State Board of Education, against the recommendation of DPI and some other Board members, declined to extend the Istation contract. As a result, the state contract with Istation expired yesterday. This means you will lose that access to the assessment platforms and, unfortunately, the remote learning platforms. The Board’s decision also means that state-provided rostering and authentication will be deactivated.

Superintendent Johnson has requested that the State Board reconsider their decision and that work is still ongoing, but for your planning purposes, please see below for how this may impact you.

• Districts and teachers will need to take time this week to download and print the student summary report or any other data needed, as it will no longer be available. Some data will be archived at the state level and uploaded into Schoolnet.

• Parents will no longer have access to Istation’s parent portal or the remote learning tools that have been utilized more heavily due to school closures. You may receive questions and complaints, so we suggest that you please prepare your staff with talking points.

• State-provided rostering data for all Istation products will be deactivated. Depending on whether you use other products from Istation or if your district wants to conduct impact assessments upon return to school to measure lost learning, your district may have to build and maintain new local rostering data feeds from local PowerSchool instances to Istation. (We recognize this will be a tedious process in an already challenging time, but it is the only option due to the state’s contract expiration.)

• Access (authentication through the NCEdCloud IAM Service) to the Istation platform will be disabled. Districts who would like to continue using the NCEdCloud IAM Service for authentication purposes will need to contact DPI.

• Districts and teachers will lose access to students’ personalized data and Istation resources.

• We, unfortunately, will likely lose the opportunity to measure the impact that the school closures had on all K-3 students’ reading skills. As you are aware, baseline assessments via Istation were taken in December and January. Due to the contract’s expiration, we won’t be able to conduct an impact assessment upon return to school.

Thank you for your time on this important matter. DPI regrets that we have to add another burden to your plate during this already difficult time. Please let us know if you have any questions.

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

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:


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.