What is going on with Istation?

There has been fabulous reporting educators like Justin Parmenter and Stu Egan on the implantation of Istation. A lot has been in the news and happening with this new computer based assessment tool. I’m simply going to try and summarize.

First, how did we get here? Well it shouldn’t be shocking to anyone that this all started with a provision within a budget bill. Under “Read to Achieve Diagnostic Changes Section 7.27” the 2017 bill outlines a call for a diagnostic tool to assess reading. The bill says that the tool must address oral language, phonological and phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension using developmentally appropriate practices. The final statement is telling however, these assessments may be administered by computer or other electronic device. The other important piece is that the NCGA gave the Superintendent authority to convene an Evaluation Panel exclusively from DPI, but ultimately the law is being interpreted as the final authority resting in the hands of the Superintendent. To find the language in the bill follow the link and do a quick ctrl f search for Read to Achieve. https://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2017/Bills/Senate/HTML/S257v8.html

As we know, thanks to people like Amy Jablonski, an evaluation team was formed, and a conclusion to maintain using mClass was reached. We also know that Mark Johnson the State Superintendent ignored the evaluation team’s finding and has contracted with a company called Istation.

The evaluation team had good reason not to pick Istation. The reasons have much to do with Istation’s limitations on what it can assess. While mClass is in no way perfect, it is administered by a teacher, and that teacher does get to listen one on one with a student reading aloud. The fact that Istation is computer based means that a student no longer has that one on one time with a teacher. Other issues involve that Istation doesn’t measure DIBELS or Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. DIBELS has been highly researched and is a recognized standard. Talk to any teacher and they will give you an earful on why a computer based assessment tool for literacy has some major flaws.

A friend and school psychologist, Chelsea Bartel, did a deep academic dive into papers written on Istation. Using Istation’s own links she found that it had cited many articles with positive reviews for the product written by a person employed by Istation. The independent article looked somewhat favorable from the summery provided by Istation, but the actual article cast serious doubts on product.

Another revelation that came out of the reporting on Istation, is the influence on outside money. While during the process of choosing an assessment tool, the Evaluation Team signs non disclosure agreements and conflict of interest forms. These of course end once the evaluation is finished and the final report is submitted. However, was Mark Johnson held to this same standard? It has been discovered that a donor to the Republican Party is also an influential lobbyist for Istation as well as another product Mark Johsnon championed called ClassWallet. This all doesn’t pass the sniff test.

In addition to what looks like political corruption, Mark Johnson’s office has been giving out misleading information. The corporation behind mClass have filed legal proceedings on the contract process. One thing revealed in the initial claim is that Mark Johnson inflated the price of mClass in a presentation to make Istation look better.

Superintendents from across the state have called for a year delay in the implementation. This wasn’t granted. The program training begins now. Students will begin using it immediately. It won’t count towards school grades however until January. School systems can still use mClass, but will have to fit the bill with local money.

This is a mess. However, on a very personal level I’m worried about one more aspect of Istation. Experts including Amy Jablonski have said that Istation isn’t accessible for all students. Students with disabilities and ESL students may not be able to use Istation. It also may not be able measure their skills. Although DPI denies this claim, it doesn’t help identify students with dyslexia a specific provision recently put into law. I hope all my disability rights and equal rights friends are paying attention.

This is my own quick summery of the work done by some fantastic writers and educators.

Justin Parmenter’s : http://notesfromthechalkboard.com/

Stu Egan: https://caffeinatedrage.com/

Hear Amy Jablonski’s interview on Doc Carter’s Pod Cast

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