Commentary, Education, News

Teacher: Amid IStation controversy, reading assessments “descended into confusion” across N.C.

A long, messy story keeps getting longer and messier.

Readers of this site and the Charlotte teacher/advocate Justin Parmenter — an occasional Policy Watch contributor — are well aware of the ongoing IStation controversy. The contracting process for a K-3 literacy assessment tool has been thrown into turmoil amid claims that it was mishandled by North Carolina officials like Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.

Parmenter’s been busy on this one, and so has Policy Watch’s Greg Childress, who reported two weeks ago that the company will be offering the tool to teachers for free until the legal questions surrounding the award of their $8.3 million contract are settled.

But Parmenter offered an up-close perspective in a commentary for The Charlotte Observer Monday, contending that, amid the fiasco, literacy testing in the early grades has “descended into confusion” in North Carolina.

Johnson fired shots at the N.C. Department of Information Technology (DIT) in recent weeks, arguing that the state agency’s stay on the contract was “improper,” but Parmenter says the mess is harming teachers across the state.

From Monday’s commentary:

Istation may be providing its product for free, but it’s free in the sense that a puppy is free. Use of a brand new assessment tool requires a significant investment of time and energy by school personnel. Those things aren’t free.

With the state superintendent indicating that schools should keep using an assessment that another agency put on hold, the vitally important work of assessing our youngest readers has descended into confusion all over the state. Some districts, including Wake and Cabarrus, have contracted directly with Amplify to use the mClass tool on their own dime, and some are using other tools to track student reading progress. But a considerable number of districts are following Johnson’s lead and proceeding as if Istation’s contract will be upheld, training teachers on how to use Istation and assessing students on the tool. The mClass application has been removed from the state’s electronic platform and replaced with Istation. With Johnson’s blessing, Istation assessments are now collecting data on North Carolina students, despite the fact that the company’s contract has been put on hold.

While Johnson can disagree with DIT’s decision, he should know better than to run roughshod over due process. After all, as Johnson reminded everyone last month, he’s not just superintendent, he’s also a lawyer. Personally endorsing and advocating for a product that hasn’t gone through proper procurement to operate in North Carolina — as the free offering of Istation has not — appears to be a deliberate attempt to subvert the decision of a governing authority. North Carolina’s public school families deserve better than this poor leadership and the chaos that surrounds the important work of evaluating our children’s reading abilities.

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