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North Carolina: State Superintendent Ignores Professionals and Chooses Tech Tool to Assess Youngest Children

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Justin Parmenter, NBCT in North Carolina, writes here about the educational malpractice inflicted on the state’s youngest readers by order of State Superintendent Mark Johnson. A TFA alum, Johnson overruled the recommendations of expert professionals in the state and decided to assess and diagnose children’s reading skill with technology instead of a teacher.

As the 2019-20 school year wound down and teachers began their well-earned summer breaks, Superintendent Mark Johnson dropped an unexpected bombshell: North Carolina schools would be scrapping the mClass reading assessment system and replacing it with the computer-based Istation program.

North Carolina schools have used mClass as the diagnostic reading assessment tool in grades K-3 since the Read to Achieve legislative initiative was implemented in 2013.

Johnson’s announcement of the change referred with no apparent irony to “an unprecedented level of external stakeholder engagement and input” which had gone into making the decision.  He neglected to mention that he had completely ignored the recommendations of those stakeholders.

When the Request for Purchase (RFP) for a Read to Achieve diagnostic reading assessment first went out in the fall of 2018, a statewide committee of experts in curriculum and reading instruction was assembled largely under the direction of Dr. Amy Jablonski, then-Division Director of Integrated Academic and Behavior Services at the Department of Public Instruction, to inform the process.

This team included specialists in general education, special education, and English language learner services, school psychologists, representatives of Institutions for Higher Education, dyslexia experts, and school and district leaders. They reviewed the four vendors that were passed through to the team, including mClass and Istation, working extensively through detailed demonstrations with all four products before determining which would best serve the needs of North Carolina’s children.

The committee presented its recommendation to Superintendent Mark Johnson in December of 2018.  They noted that students and teachers needed a tool which could accurately assess risk in all domains of reading.  They noted the crucial importance of having a teacher actually listen to a child read and sound out words. They noted the legislative requirement of an effective dyslexia screener.  And they recommended that schools continue using the mClass diagnostic tool, which they believed best accomplished all of those things.

Six months later, Superintendent Johnson completely disregarded the recommendations of those professional educators in announcing his unilateral selection of the computer-based Istation diagnostic tool.  

Parmenter goes on to explain why this was a terrible decision.

Superintendent Johnson has all the earmarks of TFA. Uninformed, inexperienced, sure of himself.

Here is hoping he gets tossed out of office and replaced by someone who respects professionalism.


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