Teachers reeling over Mark Johnson's abrupt switch to web-based reading assessment


He sure does love to spend some money:

Earlier this month, State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson announced that he signed a three-year, multi-million dollar contact to switch all elementary schools to the Istation program to assess students under North Carolina’s Read To Achieve program. Istation will put children in kindergarten through third grade on a computer three times a year to test their reading skills, then print out reports for teachers.

In an email to teachers about the change, Johnson said, “Istation is a tool designed by teachers for teachers and has proven results of helping students grow.” But teachers across the state have taken to social media to urge people to contact state lawmakers and the State Board of Education to block the change.

This is par for the course for Johnson, spend money on crap teachers neither want nor need, like $6 million worth of iPads. I'm beginning to think he's one of those people who are easily impressed by a well-dressed salesperson who knows how to stroke his little-boy ego. I'll let Justin Parmenter take the reins on Istation:

There are a few reasons Johnson’s decision is problematic, apart from its unilateral nature and dismissal of the input of knowledgeable stakeholders.

Poor timing: Announcing the change just as teachers leave for summer vacation means there will be insufficient time for educators to get up to speed with the new materials before they have to start using them for the 2019-2020 school year. For year-round schools which are beginning their school years in early July this is an even bigger problem.

Increased screen time: The adoption of Istation means increased screen time for our youngest students. Excessive screen time is already a major concern of many parents and educators, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, which notes that “a growing body of evidence suggests that the use of media while engaged in academic tasks has negative consequences on learning.”

Reduced human interaction: As the selection committee pointed out, having a teacher listen as a child produces sound is a crucial part of literacy instruction. Teachers who use mClass sit with their students and observe their reading behaviors. This one-on-one interaction allows educators to quickly and accurately identify students who need additional help and pursue appropriate interventions to get them on track. Istation marginalizes those classroom teachers, instead requiring children to look at a computer screen and react to what they see rather than actually reading letters and words and creating sounds for a qualified human teacher to evaluate.

Potential lack of correlation with state assessments: Research demonstrates that mClass results are highly predictive of performance on North Carolina End of Grade reading assessments. Not only does Istation lack that level of documentation, Denver Public Schools recently had to reduce the impact of early literacy scores on school rating systems because third graders who scored well on Istation were scoring so poorly on year-end reading tests that concerns were raised about the validity of results.

The part about human interaction cannot be stressed enough. Phonics are great, but they have to be constantly reinforced. Not a day goes by where I am not amazed and challenged by the complexity of the English language, and I consider myself to be very adept with it. In the absence of verbal cues by the student, it's not just mispronounced words that result. It's very often a disconnect with root words and other etymological factors that will contribute to learning challenges down the road. This is a critical phase of education that calls for more teacher intervention, not less.

I will end this rant with a poke at Istation's COO, Ossa Fisher, who is quoted in the OP:

But Ossa Fisher, president of Texas-based Istation, says that critics need to give the new system a chance. She points to how reading scores have not improved in third grade in the six years that mClass has been used under Read To Achieve..

“Somebody decided it was time for a change and the status quo was not effective,” Fisher said in an interview.

She has been posting articles on Huffpost for the last 2-3 years, and nearly every single one includes a link to her company. This is, in a word, spam. Over the years I have removed such diaries here, and blocked or deleted such accounts. Not necessarily because of the content, but because of the marketing of for-profit businesses. Huffpost would do well to police its platform a little better, but I won't lose any sleep over it.



Ossa Fisher and Education Hucksters

The education world is filled with snake-oil salespeople like Ossa Fisher, hawking all kinds of "transformative" technology and "innovative approaches" that have no track record (or a track record they try to obscure).

There's a manager at my institution that constantly falls for this crap, hopping from one "new next thing" to another.

A couple of years ago, he arranged for a "thought leader" from one of these companies to speak on my campus. She represented a company that promised to "revolutionize" public education in third world companies.

What her company actually did was convince countries in Africa to turn over their public schools to them and, at the same time, charge pupils fees for attending the schools. A quick search on Google turned up a number of articles about the company, outlining all kinds of problems similar to the charter-school hucksters operating right here in NC.

There's decades of research out there about what works and doesn't work to educate kids. Unfortunately, administrators are willing to sweep it all aside if there hear a few trendy buzzwords. The parents, kids, and taxpayers are the ones who wind up footing the bill for these disasters.

Now that you mention charters...

When I was digging around looking for context on this story, I came across a connection between Fisher and a growing charter school network in Texas called Uplift. She's on the Board of Directors, but not a "voting" member, so I decided to leave it out of the story.

But this exercise also revealed a new potential "trick" for funding of these schools. Uplift sought and was approved/authorized to issue publicly-backed bonds, to the tune of about $230 million to build new schools. These bonds put the state on the hook if (or when) these schools start failing.