After months of ‘strife’ over the state’s K-3 reading assessment tool, Istation proves to be a favorite among educators

State Superintendent Mark Johnson

The Istation K-3 reading diagnostic tool has emerged as a clear favorite among North Carolina educators, after months of quarreling between State Superintendent Mark Johnson and critics who supported a competing assessment tool, Amplify’s mClass.

Approximately 30% of the state’s 116 school districts chose Istation to test student reading levels. A new à la carte system allows districts to select a reading assessment tool from a list of five approved vendors.

  • Only 14.7% of the district’s selected Amplify, which had held the state contract before Johnson awarded it to Istation in June 2019.  Amplify will serve 35,273, or 8.1%, of the state’s 433,774 students in grades K-3.
  • Many districts — 41.4 % — chose IReady, equalling 143,367 students.
  • And the balance, roughly a third, chose Istation, which will serve 159,342 students.

Johnson trumpeted the new selection process during a State Board of Education meeting Thursday. Previously, districts could only use the assessment tool selected by the NC Department of Public Instruction.

“I am pleased to report today that based on conversations I have had with other leaders, the nation is watching North Carolina with excitement because we have innovated in a way that others want to emulate,” Johnson said.

Source: NC Department of Public Instruction


He also addressed the months of legal wrangling that ensued after he awarded the $8.3 million reading assessment contract to Istation. Amplify filed a protest with the NC Department of Information Technology charging that the contract was unfairly awarded to Istation.

“As you know, there has been so much unfortunate, unnecessary strife surrounding this issue, and that strife started with some bad acts of a few politically motivated bureaucrats who are no longer with DPI,” Johnson said.

Johnson contends the procurement process was tainted because evaluation committee members breached confidentiality and were biased in ways that tilted the selection process in Amplify’s favor.

He gave up his fight to keep Istation after the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close and federal and state lawmakers waived year-end assessments for the 2019-20 school year.

The state’s Read to Achieve law enacted to ensure students are reading on grade level by end of third grade requires a K-3 reading diagnostic tool is in place.


  1. Amber Kendall

    September 4, 2020 at 9:38 am

    How irresponsible is this headline? First of all, Istation wasn’t chosen by a majority of districts; it wasn’t even the top choice! As an education researcher, I’d never be able to pawn off a reading assessment as “teachers’ favorite” unless I asked a question of preference to actual teachers. This data is simply what tool schools are utilizing, which doesn’t imply that they believe it is the best assessment. Maybe you drive a Honda because they’re cheap and prevalent, but you’d really prefer a BMW. I don’t know if the author has ever actually worked in a school, but teachers don’t get a final say in what assessment to use; the school and district administration does.

    Pronouncing any program the best assessment during virtual schooling is problematic for reasons of access and validity anyway. Of course schools are using online tools: most of our schools are currently virtual. Mclass requires teachers to sit across from a student as they read; you try to decipher phonemes through a crappy Google Meet connection. I might add, Istation results simply cannot be valid if the assessment is administered at home–what did the state spend all those hours for, training educators to administer the program, if students can just do it at home? Some parents will absolutely end up “helping” their students on the assessment, and unequal access to electronics and internet will penalize other students.

    This article is passing off propaganda from Superintendent Johnson as educational policy. Go ask the actual teachers about their Istation experiences and see what they say.

  2. Tina Lee Lunt

    September 4, 2020 at 11:21 am

    The title of the article states, “Istation proves to be a favorite among educators”. The data revealed in the article shows District’s choices between the three options for assessment. It should not be considered that just because the District made the purchase that the assessment choice was the favorite of educators in the District. I would recommend an educator poll or survey to discover that specific information. District actions don’t always reflect the desire of educators and others working within the District.

  3. Sandra

    September 4, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    Were any educators polled to determine *their* favorite? LEA purchasing decisions are not an indicator of preference, especially when it wasn’t really a choice.

  4. Eyal Rav-Noy

    September 11, 2020 at 2:58 am

    Does anyone believe that we can assess kids into literacy? The strangest paragraph in this article is the last: “The state’s Read to Achieve law enacted to ensure students are reading on grade level by end of third grade requires a K-3 reading diagnostic tool is in place.” You can diagnose kids using iStation, iReady, and Amplify, and they will still be illiterate.

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