During a Friday, June 28, conference call, the State Board of Education agreed to delay implementing Istation, the state’s newly picked K-3 reading diagnostic tool. The decision, proposed by the Department of Public Instruction, resulted from concerns about a compressed timeline to put the new program in place, train teachers, and start collecting data in the new school year. 

The state no longer will use Amplify’s Mclass to monitor K-3 students’ reading ability after State Superintendent Mark Johnson awarded the three-year, $8.3 million contract to Istation on June 7. Mclass, in use since 2010, gauges a student’s reading proficiency after a student reads aloud to a teacher. Amplify’s reading diagnostic tool has been used to document the results of Read to Achieve. Now, Istation will do the job.

Some teachers and school officials have expressed concerns about the quick turnaround in switching assessment programs. The Friday conference call was scheduled to ally some of those worries. The goal was to set a reasonable timetable without causing too many headaches. 

“We are having this discussion not because of the choice that was made, but because of the timeline we face to implement the reading diagnostic tool,” SBE member J.B. Buxton said. 

The plan says elementary schools must wait until January to start using Istation. Teachers will be trained during the summer and fall to prepare for the new reading diagnostic tool.

With Istation, students take a test on a computer. This generates a printed report teachers use to monitor students’ reading skills and suggest further instruction. Johnson has said it’s an excellent program that lets teachers spend more time teaching rather than giving tests. 

“I think teachers will find the reports they get to be empowering and they will have more information they can use to personalize education for our students,” Johnson said during the conference call.

But implementing Istation won’t be simple. Amplify has filed a legal protest to either delay or stop the process. The company claims the contract shouldn’t go to Istation because the assessment tool doesn’t satisfy requirements in the law and is too advanced for young children.

“Because it does not meet North Carolina’s needs, the use of Istation will lead to outcomes that are detrimental to North Carolina students,” Amplify argued in a news release announcing the protest.

Amplify noted an evaluation committee recommended sticking with Mclass, but Johnson went ahead with Istation. DPI denies the committee picked Amplify and stands behind the decision to pick Istation.

The bidding process to choose a vendor for the reading diagnostic tool was canceled twice. Johnson said he would explain this when the procurement process was officially finished.

Ossa Fisher, president of Istation, released a statement claiming Amplify’s protest is “frivolous” and “without any substantial basis or merit.”

“Their purpose is solely to cause unnecessary delay in the contract awarded to Istation,” Fisher said in a statement. “The false and misleading statements that Amplify is publicly distributing are intended to harass and cause harm to our company after we were awarded the contract — fair and square — based on our product offerings and proven track record working with millions of students across the country.”