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We asked K-3 teachers what they thought about switching literacy assessment tools. Over 400 told us.

All comments in this post were submitted by K-3 teachers in North Carolina via a survey on our Reach NC Voices platform from June 25 to June 27. Click here to see the full results.

As questions linger around the process that led to the state signing a contract with new literacy assessment vendor Istation, K-3 teachers are wondering what the switch means for their classrooms and students in the upcoming year. In a Reach NC Voices poll that ran from June 25 to June 27, more than 400 K-3 teachers left comments with concerns about implementing a new assessment system for young readers.

For background on the change from Amplify to Istation — and the companies’ back-and-forth since Superintendent Mark Johnson’s June announcement — check out the articles below. 

Protest filed over state superintendent’s Istation pick

New literacy assessment vendor Istation defends its platform, calls Amplify’s protest ‘frivolous’

Of the 421 comments left by teachers across the state, many took issue with the idea of taking the teacher out of the literacy assessment process and moving to an online platform. Many mentioned specific cues and warning signs that computers could not catch. Several expressed worries that students, especially those whose families do not have computers at home or speak English as a second language, would face a technological learning curve.  

I am highly concerned that I will no longer face to face assess my students in reading. Not all students are auditory learners and require teacher clarification with directions and support. I fear for the validity of an assessment on a computer by a Kindergarten student. Our students from poverty and second language learners lack the background knowledge and experience to show their true capability on technology. There is also inadequate time to train teachers and have them familiar with the new platform before the beginning of the year. — Lindsay

Many teachers said they were used to grouping students and differentiating instruction based on the current mCLASS tool they use. Concerns about the impacts of screen time on both the assessment outcomes and children’s overall health were also shared.

I am a kindergarten teacher with over 25 years experience. Mclass has always given me valuable info on my students that I use to plan instruction for them. It is a valuable tool in tailoring their learning to their needs. The kit has books that are very similar to the ones we use in reading groups. The children are familiar with this type of learning. When they read to me orally I can make notes that help me target their needs & group them with like students that they learn from in small group. All of this feels very VALID. In the past when my students have used devices I watch them get bored, misinterpret directions & simply guess to finish the program. When they spend lengths of time in devices I see a lethargy in them & then a hyperactivity that negatively bleeds over into the rest of their day. I limit their screen time daily because of this. What also concerns me is the waste of $$ having just spent a great deal on the kits. Then to turn around & spend even more $ on something that will not give me valid info on my students & may actually harm them by requiring them to be on a device for even longer than is recommended by experts on child development & welfare. Listen to the experts & the teachers. If this was done to cut down on testing time it in fact won’t as I will have to do some other Mclass type testing to get the info I need to help the children I serve. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

The overwhelming majority were concerned about the switch, but not everyone. A few teachers welcomed a change and many mentioned how time-consuming the one-on-one assessments mCLASS requires can be. Many teachers mentioned assessments generally taking away from instruction time.

I am glad for the change. Amplify was very time consuming. Amplify also did not level their books consistently through each reading level. This made it impossible to compare students across the county much less the state with students reading such a wide variety of books. I am very willing to give the new program a chance. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

The EOG scores for third graders has decreased each year while [we] have used mclass.  We spend too much time testing instead of teaching. It’s a great move! — Anonymous K-3 teacher

There were many concerns about the implementation timeline and how teachers will effectively use a new tool with such a quick turnaround. This concern was echoed by superintendents across the state who are requesting a one-year implementation delay.

1. There is not enough time to train every K-3 teacher in NC before 2019-2020 school year begins!! 2. Teachers need to listen to students read to observe the reading behaviors students exhibit. This observation leads to individualized instruction. 3. Too much screen time for our youngest students is not healthy! 4. Oral language is essential in reading development, how will that be measured on iStation? 5. Most K-3 teachers in NC are now to the point of understanding how to best use mClass to inform instruction. The first few years were learning to give the assessment measures to fidelity. Now teachers can easily discuss the data with parents and colleagues. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

Another common theme throughout the comments was a lack of working computers or tablets to take online assessments. Many teachers also felt the move was financially concerning because of recent mCLASS purchases and upgrades.

I am concerned over the lack of working technology we have in our schools to use this effectively. The iReady program is already near impossible for my school to complete as suggested. I get valuable information from assessing my students with mClass. The DIBELS tools help me pinpoint areas of focus, and I get information about a student’s comprehension and word solving strategies by conversing with them and watching their approach. So much money has gone into mClass already. It’s been implemented effectively and helps me form guided reading groups and work on things I’ve noticed with my students. You can’t rely on a computer to tell you everything you need to know to teach a child to read. You will be along teachers to find time to incorporate istation with a lack of technology, and the good teachers will have to dig out even more time to assess kids one on one without mClass. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

My classroom does not have computers.  We only have iPads.  Will the program work on an IPad.  Also our district spent a lot of money on Amplify books which have only been used 1/2 a year.  Will there be time to be trained on a new program? — Anonymous K-3 teacher

The following comments have been sorted through and organized based on themes: thoughts on screen time/computer skills, concerns over the lack of a human in the assessment process, comments on the age/developmental appropriateness of an online tool, comments on former experience with the Istation tool, concerns over the quality or accuracy of online assessments to inform instruction, worries about the cost of switching to a new program, thoughts on the implementation timeline, and concerns over too much testing overall. 

Screen time/computer skills

Having used Iready the last 2 years, I am already concerned that my students are spending too much time in front of a screen. Many of them will spend their entire summer in front of a screen. They need instruction from a human. As for assessment, I am concerned that I won’t be able to use it to inform my instruction and will have to do my own assessments also. To be honest, this is what I’ve been doing already anyway though. Good teachers will always do the assessments they need to do to inform their instruction. It is really unfortunate that we have to do extra assessments just to turn in to someone who doesn’t teach. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

I am very concerned about the extended use of screen time as well as students not being adequately assessed as a reader. Teachers need to read with their students to understand how to best meet their needs. I’m also very upset for my own upcoming first grader that will be thrown into more computer time [than] I allow at home. Students need books in their hands not constantly reading on a computer screen. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

I teach kindergarten students. They are not yet equipped to manipulate a computer mouse. They will also treat it like they do any other online game/resource – just click until they get a correct answer.  They don’t understand the object of the test. Reading to a computer takes away the teachers ability to look and listen for the reading cues of a young reader to truly assess the areas [they] need remediation on.  Our school also does not have adequate technology to test all K-3 students on a computer. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

My concerns are that a computer cannot properly asses a child’s reading fluency. A teacher spends a countless amount of hours with these students and they know their students and the way they speak, such as accents, speech impediments, and possible stuttering. A computer cannot properly assess a child’s oral reading or oral comprehension. Another concern is that some students from low income areas are not familiar with how to navigate/use the devices that they will be required to be assessed on for istation. I do not think this is what is best for our students. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

No human in assessment process

I am very concerned about how I will assess and progress monitor the reading skills my students will be learning throughout the year. When I am teaching a child how to read, I need to listen and interact with them to get an accurate representation of what they can do. Amplify’s mClass was able to give me everything I needed to assess and monitor my students. I’m very worried that Istation has no teacher/student interaction on the assessment. — Jade

My biggest concern is it is a machine that’s testing our children, not a human being. The teachers are the ones that know the needs of the students. They know about the child that’s scared to try a new word. They know that a word of encouragement can be all the child needs to succeed. They also know about the children that don’t sleep much at night because of life situations at home. They know how to maintain the child’s attention so a true reading level can be determined … I, as a teacher, need to assess my students myself. Not a computer. — Katie

I feel it was a bad move for multiple reasons. I don’t feel a computer can truly assess a child. What about children with speech difficulties? Will the computer indicate the reading cues the child used? I also feel it was a bad financial move. So much money has been spent on the training and implementation of Amplify. Not to mention the amount that was spent to purchase testing materials! — Anonymous K-3 teacher

While technology is a great tool for students to practice previously taught skills, it is not an appropriate way to assess reading. Teachers need to read independently with children to determine what their specific reading needs are. Some students read with 100% accuracy and struggle with comprehension. Other students can comprehend when a story is read to [them] but need specific, targeted instruction in reading skills to help them be successful readers. Children do not need MORE time with technology…they need more direct interaction with a teacher and peers. I can’t imagine any child having to assess with this program but especially students with different needs. Please reconsider. — Maggie

I think that I am a highly qualified teacher, who sent most of her kids to the next grade way above grade level in reading. When I think about the fact that much of my instruction and one on one feedback given to students will be taken away next year, it really worries me. Something I learned rather quickly is that students learn comprehension skills better when they are involved in high interest books and discussions. Whether that be discussions with peers or myself, it works!! A computerized program cannot talk back and discuss with children. It cannot offer immediate feedback in a child friendly language. It cannot correct the student. It is disengaging and in a world where children already have too much screen time, this is just going to exacerbate this. I think we need to go back to mclass or go to another running record system where our data can drive instruction in not only a systematic way, but in a connected way. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

Developmentally inappropriate

It is making the testing situation worse. Testing is a problem in third grade and beyond, not in k-2. MClass and Dibels are great, developmentally appropriate assessment tools. While there are a few drawbacks, it is well worth it. Anything that is online is developmentally inappropriate for K-2/3 students. It will likely be inaccurate as many kids just click around a program and likely only very successful to those who are using the program frequently. This wouldn’t be an indication of actual learning but rather an indication of learning a program. It will likely bring literacy down as authentic ELA instruction won’t be the focus but rather preparing kids to take an online test. Overall, this is very concerning and a terrible turn for early elementary students to take. — Jennifer

I am concerned that the students will not have experience taking an online assessment prior to the BOY benchmark.  I also regret that the teacher/student interaction has been taken away.  I realize that all assessments are moving toward online administration, however I feel it is not appropriate for K-3 students. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

This is not developmentally appropriate for 5 to 8 year old children. They need one-on-one assessments, reading aloud to a teacher in order for the teacher to know what specifically the student needs to grow. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

Istation experience

Our district has used Istation for about 5 years at least as a helpful tracker and practice tool, and also to help provide some interventions. It’s hard for elementary students to log in, and they get bored with it and start clicking wherever. Even when told it’s important and we can see their progress, some don’t take it seriously or it’s hard for them to navigate or focus. The superintendent also did not give district leaders any heads up. We have spent money on mClass and used it to the best of our ability. I can’t say the books align well with resources used in the schools, however we are getting to hear/see a child read and adjust our teaching throughout the year based off of that data. I would not feel comfortable at all looking at a computer with data from a device and have it tell me where to start instructing with a kindergartner. — Cheryl

My district currently uses iStation as a local assessment for a good cause exemption. The data I am able to collect from mClass is invaluable, especially in comparison to iStation. Students work hard to do well on their mClass assessments in part because they want to please the teacher. This is not the case with iStation. The students do not like the interface and they find it to be a bit childish as 3rd graders. They rush through the assessments in order to be finished and the data is then not accurate. Even though using mClass can be time consuming, it is worth the time because of the information we receive. We learn about student’s reading habits and skills through those assessments so we can better target specific skills and differentiate instruction. — Jessica

My concern as a first grade teacher is that for assessment purposes, I will not be listening to my students read.  Many students will click through the assessment and it will not provide reliable data.  I used this program in a previous district as an intervention piece, not as my major assessment.  With the 2nd graders I had then, they simply clicked through and did not read what they should have. I am also concerned with the amount of screen time that will be required.  Many students who struggle are given suggested intervention times up to 90 minutes a week.  That is screen time that could be personal contact with a teacher doing intervention. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

Quality of results

I am concerned about the discrepancy between what a child can actually do versus what an online assessment tool will show. I’ve given an online phonics and comprehension assessment and it doesn’t come close to matching the data I get by doing the same type of assessment with a student. The assessments done with a teacher are a far more accurate representation of their reading skills. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

I’m nervous that we won’t have accurate data to help our students. We won’t have the fluency piece assessed by a teacher to truly measure the students’ ability. The comprehension piece, while time consuming, offered so much informative data. I don’t know how switching to an all-online assessment will create helpful and accurate data. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

There needs to be some oral reading in which a teacher can observe a child’s behaviors and strategic reading work…have recently had the opportunity to watch a few students “performing” reading tasks on an online assessment. Many times “clicks/choices” are made randomly, where there is no confidence in an answer selection. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

Amplify mClass is a thorough assessment tool that provides instant, usable data to determine instruction, make adjustments to interventions, and discuss needs and strengths with parents. Teachers need more time to teach with less progress monitoring. My daily notes and observations on each child during their guided reading instruction provides the constant data I need for progress monitoring. Adding a computerized assessment or replacing mClass altogether is a grave mistake for early readers. We already have fidelity monitoring practices by switching benchmark assessors from the teacher of record. No computer, especially with the ridiculous state of our current technology, can accurately assess early readers, including students with speech language delays or concerns. The abstract data collected from online assessments will NOT be clear & concise enough to influence daily teaching. This is a mistake. Period. — Elizabeth

I have concerns for the switch. MClass, particularly Dibels, allows me to catch /identify areas of weakness quickly and early. Listening to children read/sound out unknown words or nonsense words lets me identify areas of struggle or weakness. IStation is a full online program. The students are listening only not speaking so while the data may be useful in certain aspects it [doesn’t] give a broad enough picture to really identify the weaknesses. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

Cost

Poor idea. We just spent a fortune on new books for mclass. We don’t have the computers/tablets to support istation. Students cannot be tested for reading in K-3 on a computer. There are too many important skills that can be assessed only by listening to children read. Stop wasting money. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

I am concerned about the amount of money being spent on this knowing our district just updated our progress monitoring libraries this past year, spending thousands of dollars. Why not pilot schools with this program first, to give time to see data and train teachers adequately first. This is extremely frustrating as a BLUE evaas teacher. — Katie

I do not feel that the new program will be beneficial to my students. A great deal of money has been spent to get new Ipads. What will they be used for now? It seems like we are wasting money instead of looking out for the best interest of the students. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

My first concern is that the state just purchased a new assessment system from Mclass last year. It was an update to the effective system we have been using for several years. We always seem to be short on funding for schools and teachers, so this purchase right on the heels of a prior purchase seems to be a waste of money. I have been a teacher for 25 years. Education has evolved and gone through many changes in that time. One of the most important things I have learned is that children thrive on relationships, interaction, and direct instruction/attention. Learning to read is a complex process. A faceless, unemotional computer does NOT address these needs. Reading assessments must be completed face to face by an actual human. You cannot depend on a 5-year-old to perform his or her best on a computer program. In all the information I have reviewed, it does not mention anything about an ending goal or a level of achievement to be reached. I have further concerns about placing students in front a computer for longer periods and depriving them of even more social interactions and language development. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

I am in awe that so much money was spent to update mCLASS materials for the 2018-2019 school year for these materials to be useless the very next school year. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

Implementation timeline

I feel it is too many changes too soon. We just changed to the revised Mclass assessment for TRC. I feel like I was just getting the hang of that and now we have to switch again. Not happy with that. If we had gone from the old Mclass to this it would have been better. The thought of changing again causes me stress. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

I am not in favor of switching to a new program. I believe we just began being able to understand and use the data.  The students are now comfortable with mClass and I believe the results are valid.  I believe more computer time is detrimental to the students.  I am also concerned about students with speech issues and limited English.  We also spent a great deal of money on new kits last year.  Part of the issue with education in NC is the constant changing.  We begin new initiatives and rarely see them through without giving them enough time to blossom. — Kristin

I am concerned that a change of this caliber with no advance notice to the teachers implementing this change puts students and teachers at a huge disadvantage when assessing students at the beginning of the year. How is it at all possible for these assessments to be accurate if we have had and will have no time to adequately prepare ourselves? — Anonymous K-3 teacher

Time on assessments

I appreciate the time the new system will give back to me for teaching, but worry about the accuracy of the new platform. Five and six year olds often do not do their best on online test tools. I wish there was a way Amplify could decrease the amount of time it takes to test. It is simply too time consuming. — Kay

I feel that the decision to switch to iStation was rushed.  Yes, we do have entirely too much testing, but instead of creating an entirely digital assessment that can produce invalid data and doesn’t allow teachers to listen to students read, perhaps other assessments should have been removed (i.e. STAR 360) or the amount of items in the mClass assessment reduced. Now to obtain the data I originally received from mClass, I will have to conduct my own outside assessments for running records and reading data to ensure my students are growing as readers. — Anonymous K-3 teacher

I am open to the idea if it helps us with less one on one assessing. However, I am concerned about if it assesses our children accurately. I loved the dibels portion of mclass but did not think it was fair that strangers had to do the trc portion….kindergarten students are shy and it takes the whole year to bond with them. They do not do as well on assessment when someone other than the teacher assesses them…that was another crazy rule from the state! — Anonymous K-3 teacher

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.