Today, I write as a parent and concerned citizen, with a heavy heart. I had hoped I would not need to write this post, but I am hearing that districts are still collecting Istation data for K-3 reading diagnostics. I feel the need to inform parents about what is happening and their options. Let’s start with a little background.

On August 19, 2019, the Department of Information Technology granted a temporary stay against the use of Istation while they further review the contract. It seems that State Superintendent Mark Johnson refused to uphold the stay and signed a memorandum of agreement with Istation to allow training to continue. So just as Mark Johnson refused, I say, we all have the right to refuse too.

You can read more background about the Istation procurement process here and in a recent article in the Charlotte observer.

First, I’ll speak to NC parents of public school children. Then, I’ll speak to everyone including other concerned citizens.

Parents: Considering that the idea behind Istation is using technology to replace one-on-one reading diagnostics by a teacher and the way that Istation was chosen despite an expert committee saying mClass was a better choice, I cannot in good conscience allow my child to participate with Istation. So my choice is to refuse Istation for my kindergarten son. You will need to consider all of the information and decide what is best for your family.

There is no universally accepted way to opt out of testing in NC. As a matter of fact, when parents say I do not want my child to participate in XYZ testing, they are often told, you cannot opt out. So let me be clear, if you do not want your child to participate in Istation (or any other test), you must REFUSE to allow your child to participate. The North Carolina Test Coordinators’ Policies and Procedures Handbook (2019-2020) acknowledges a parent may “refuse . . .  the state’s testing requirements . . . .” Other grounds for refusal include the fact that the NC Public Schools website states that the only state mandated test for the 2019-20 school year for K-3 for Diagnostic ELA/Reading is mClass Assessments (Reading 3-D). Furthermore (click for the link), “by September 1 of each year, the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall publish on the Web site of the Department of Public Instruction a uniform calendar that includes schedules for State-required testing . . . .”  (§115C-174.12(e1).

Also, you can take the route of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which states that parents must consent to having their child’s data shared except under certain conditions. Well, given the fact that the contract is currently not binding, Istation should not have rights to your child’s data.

If you choose to refuse testing for your child, the suggestions I’ve seen are to be sure to reiterate that you know there is no state opt out procedure, but that you are refusing testing for your child. Furthermore, be persistent and talk with other parents. There is strength in numbers. It is a good idea to talk to your principal but also make sure you put your refusal in writing. Parents have had success in NC with refusing testing such as EOGs, but refusing Istation is a new situation. Some parents have reported push back. Be persistent!

Here is a sample letter of refusal:

Dear       ,

As the parents of _____, we have decided that he will not in any way participate with Istation including but not limited to benchmarks, progress monitoring, or any training/practice activities for the 2019-2020 academic year.

On August 19, 2019, the Department of Information Technology granted a temporary stay against the use of Istation while they further review the contract. Despite the stay, State Superintendent Mark Johnson signed a memorandum of agreement with Istation to allow training to continue. We know that our district has not started collecting data using Istation yet, but we also know that other districts have. In order to ensure that our child does not use a reading diagnostic instrument that is under investigation, we have chosen to refuse his participation.

We find the actions of Superintendent Johnson to be deplorable as continuing training on an instrument when we do not know if the contract will be carried out is irresponsible use of teacher time. Teachers and parents throughout North Carolina have expressed concerns about Istation including the increased screen time instead of a teacher testing a child one-on-one. Eighty-eight school superintendents requested a one year delay in the implementation of Istation but were denied.

We know that there is not an opt out procedure widely accepted by the State of North Carolina for testing. Therefore, we exercise our right to refuse.Our refusal to allow ____ to  participate with Istation goes beyond what is best for our child. We are taking a stand for what is in the best interest of all children in North Carolina. At the same time, we go on record saying that it is inappropriate for Superintendent Johnson to use his position to further his agenda of personalized learning at the expense of our children.

We believe our right to refuse is supported by

  • The fact that www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/accountability/home/state-tests-spreadsheet-1819-1920.xlsx states that the only state mandated test for the 2019-20 school year for K-3 for Diagnostic ELA/Reading is mClass Assessments (Reading 3-D) and per www.ncpublicschools.org/accountability/ “by September 1 of each year, the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall publish on the Web site of the Department of Public Instruction a uniform calendar that includes schedules for State-required testing . . . .”  (§115C-174.12(e1)
  • the North Carolina Test Coordinators’ Policies and Procedures Handbook (2019-2020) where it acknowledges a parent may “refuse . . .  the state’s testing requirements . . . .” and
  • the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPa) as we do not consent to the collection of or sharing of data with Istation particularly when the contract is under review

Please know that our decision was not due to dissatisfaction with you, the school, your teachers and staff, or the district as a whole. Our decision has been made solely on the basis of our concerns related to Istation.

Sincerely,


Parents, also talk to your school’s PTA about advocating for not using Istation until the situation is resolved.

Next, this is for EVERYONE including any concerned citizens. You have the right to refuse to let Mark Johnson get by with furthering his agenda at our students’ expense. Contact Eric Boyette (eric.boyette@nc.gov  or 919-754-6493), Secretary and State Chief Information Officer for the Department of Information Technology. Let him know that you are concerned that their department issued a stay yet teachers are still continuing to be trained and data collection proceeded in some districts.

Also, I strongly suggest everyone support our teachers. There are numerous reports of concerns about Istation from teachers on social media including (teachers consented to use of their words anonymously):

“My district is using it. I have questioned administration and other leaders several times about why we are using it, but the responses are almost always shrug."

“We have been told to go ahead . . . are we, as teachers, liable at all for violating this ruling if we test? I kind of feel damned if I do, damned if I don’t.”

“I talked to someone familiar with the program this last week . . . . Their evaluation of it was devastating, ranging from bizarely out-of-place humor . . . to obnoxious gender stereotypes . . . .”

“I think our voices should be heard. It is hard to feel forced to do something that you feel could really be detrimental to a career that you have put your heart and soul into!”

“I had 1 kid in hysterical tears yesterday during progress monitoring because it was taking so long. Another severely autistic student couldn’t do any of it and just wanted to play. Wish I could do it like last year - much easier and quicker face to face.”

“I saw a 1st grader at 52 min 2 wks ago and 1 who was on minute 40 randomly was hitting buttons and told the teacher he hadn’t been able to hear anything the whole time.”

“[One child took] over 45 minutes. Finally admin said not to make the student finish.”

“I . . . have seen 4 instances of over 45 min of assessment.”

“My district has used it. You should see how horrible the reports are that it generates. The Oral reading Fluency assessment won’t even score or create reports. It was a lot easier to administer the assessment but the reports look like they haven’t finished creating those. Unbelievable!”

“I will say that in kindergarten, I found these assessment sort of useless. We already assess letter knowledge and sounds through screening. I feel like we were able to benefit much more from mClass and its ability to assess book and print skills. I’m having to mimic it on my own in guided groups anyway.”

“It is so bizarre to me that school districts haven’t even addressed the issue. Just ‘we’re moving forward with Istation.’ I just don’t understand how this is legal although that seems to be the theme in Raleigh this week. I’m just waiting for this implementation to be deemed invalid. Our children are the pawns in this political game.”

“I just don’t want to [administer Istation]. I feel like I’m being forced to ‘break the law,” do something unethical.

“We did start and everyone says it doesn’t match up with reading levels. I’m doing it tomorrow, reluctantly.”

“According to my classroom assessments it is WAY off! I have my kids grouped according to teacher made assessments and classroom performance right now. According to Istation, one of my top kids scored the lowest in the class and one of my lowest kids scored the highest. Something is not right. I teach kindergarten so I think it is showing kids with more technology background doing better. Many do not know how to scroll over and click answers. It gives them a certain amount of time to answer and then they get timed out from that question.”

“I am in my 30th year, and don’t want to lose my job by refusing a directive from my admin and local superintendent to test. . . .”

“As a teacher, I have certain responsibilities under the testing code of ethics. But as a parent, I have responsibilities to my own children, and as an NC citizen, I have responsibilities to our younger citizens. I’m trying to weigh all of these.”

EVERYONE please exercise your right to refuse. Refuse to sit back and just see what happens. Speak up. Refuse to let teachers feel unsupported. Contact Eric Boyette. Talk to other parents and your principal, and if you feel it is right for your family, refuse Istation.

Tags: (Education, Istation, State Superintendent)

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