Education, News

State Board of Education votes down 4-month Istation extension

State Superintendent Mark Johnson

Despite a plea from State Superintendent Mark Johnson, the State Board of Education (SBE) on Friday rejected a $1.2 million contract extension with Istation, the firm that provides the state’s K-3 reading diagnostic tool.

The SBE voted 8-2 during a remote conference call to table the contract until the General Assembly considers a request to waive the reading diagnostic requirement in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

The crisis forced North Carolina’s schools to close until May 15 or longer.

A K-3 reading diagnostic tool is required under the state’s Read to Achieve law enacted to ensure students are reading on grade level by end of third grade. Without the Istation extension, the state will be without a diagnostic tool starting March 31.

Johnson said Istation has agreed to sweeten the deal by giving students and teachers its remote learning curriculum for free during school closure.

“So that means, with what we already have in place, at no additional cost, all of the reading, math and Spanish lessons and curriculum for teachers to assign to students and to personalize their learning will be made available,” Johnson said.

Johnson won over SBE members Amy White and Olivia Oxendine, both of whom voted in favor of extending the contract.

Oxendine said teachers understand Istation.

“They may not be thoroughly pleased but they were not thoroughly pleased with mClass [a competing diagnostic tool the state used before Istation],” Oxendine said. “Going back to my early days on the State Board I recall numerous debates about mClass and most of them were negative, not always positive.”

She said allowing the contract to expire leave teachers in the “lurch” and “twiddling their fingers, pulling out their hair” trying to figure out how to provide reliable and consistent standards-based instruction in K-3 reading.

“K-3 reading, as each board member knows, we have talked about it endlessly, is the foundation of literacy in the education of our kids,” Oxendine said. “

SBE member J.B. Buxton argued against the extension.

“Do we want to spend $1.2 million in the next four months … or even a $200,000 a month to provide a tool we may not be able to administer,” Buxton said. “We are asking to be waived and we don’t know that in the near-term students can even get access to [Istation] whether it’s on smartphone or [due to] connectivity issues or potentially by print.”

Johnson said he is confident the General Assembly will waive end-of-the-year tests required by the state.

“But we have no indication from the General Assembly that they want us to violate the legislation [Read to Achieve law] that requires the formative progress monitoring,” Johnson said.

Buxton questioned the reliability of data collected from students working on Istation from home.

“I don’t know that we could call what progress monitoring would capture valid and reliable because we have no way of understanding how it’s being used at home,” Buxton said.

Several board members and Johnson alluded to the rocky history Istation has had in North Carolina.

The diagnostic tool has been a big point of contention between the SBE and State Superintendent Mark Johnson.

Johnson selected Istation to provide the assessment tool in August. That triggered a protest from Amplify, a competitor whose mClass diagnostic tool had been used in North Carolina schools.

The matter is still being litigated.


  1. Patricia Hensley

    March 29, 2020 at 12:26 pm

    Let the teachers teach reading and let them determine whether a child is proficient in reading! There is too much computer time and not enough teacher time! Go back to the basics in reading, such as phonics! They have to know how to read words before they can read books!

  2. Helen Gaines

    March 29, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    As a teacher that administers Istation I am in agreement with not using it during the time that we are not in school. It is a waste of money. Many students in the rural areas still don’t have acess to technology.
    I am in favor of keeping it for the next school year. It saves a lot of time.

  3. Barbara Feemster

    March 30, 2020 at 3:42 am

    Easy fix, Teach children how the old fashioned way
    It worked for the ones that are voting. I do not understand why it so hard for charge to be so blind. Just teach children how to spell, read and write. It seems as if the simple stuff is hard to…..sight words, spelling, pronunciation, dividing words into syllables, knowing the connation you cand the denotation of a word. You certainly don’t need a company, just educated. Caring.and trained teachersa.. Hello.

  4. April Noneya

    March 30, 2020 at 2:18 pm

    After reading the article I think there are few things that may not be understood by the people making these decisions.

    Students can access Istation at home (login is a HUGE pain and many parents still can’t figure it out). But they only have access to the games/activities our county paid for (which evidently maybe given out for free?). #wheresourrefund

    Students are not able to do the ISIP (any of the testing or progress monitoring, on demand assessments) outside of the school’s network. Is this somehow going to change all of a sudden? And then we’re going to count that data as being reliable and valid? Yikes.

    You cannot do Istation on the phone or even some tablets. The screen has to be a certain size. So some of my families who wanted to use it had to go out and purchase devices.

    We probably aren’t even going to school the rest of this year. Please don’t pay all this money for something we don’t even need right now.

    If you can’t guarantee all students will have the same access this continues to cause further inequities. We got so caught up in all this istation crazy this year, we got away from PD and conversations about achievement gap. I wish that was on the forefront of people’s minds as they make these decisions for our kids.

    -Teacher & Parent

  5. Audrey Berry

    March 30, 2020 at 2:58 pm

    Our schools are teaching Test taking and not the skills they will need to live and work in this world. We line the pockets of Teat Manufacturing when this money could be used for school supplies for students and Teachers. 2+2dies not equal 8. Get your heads out of the sand and teach the basics again. Get rid of personnel that are cruel to kids and parents. I did not have tenure and knew that if I failed to follow the rules and be professional that I would be disciplined or fired. Come on folks let’s put the kids first and check your egos at the door.

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