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New computer reading test raises questions at APS

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

APS administrators and board members are up in arms about a new reading assessment they say the Public Education Department sprung on districts with practically no notice.

In July, PED announced that Istation would replace the old test, DIBELS, to measure literacy in kindergarten through third grades. Students across the state will take Istation three times a year using computers or iPads, and the first round must be completed within 30 days of the start of the school year. For Albuquerque Public Schools, the deadline is Sept. 21.

Rose-Ann McKernan, executive director of the APS’ Office of Accountability and Reporting, said teachers will have to work overtime to switch gears to Istation from the paper-and-pencil DIBELS.

“The process was started way too late,” she told the board’s policy and instruction committee last week. “The decision should have been made by January, so we had a semester to do all of this.”

APS board president Dave Peercy didn’t mince words about the timing, calling it “disrespectful to teachers.”

“We want to emphasize the fact that these last-minute things drive us crazy,” he said.

Some of the crunch is tied to the mandatory competitive bid process – legally, state officials could not sign up for Istation until the DIBELS contract ran out at the end of the fiscal year. A PED selection committee rated the bids on quality and price, and recommended Istation as the best value.

PED spokesman Robert McEntyre said the department is working with districts and charter schools to ease the transition, noting that it extended the first testing window from the usual 15 days to 30 days as an accommodation.

Teachers also can access online training and a Testing Help Line manned by four staff members during the first few weeks of school.

Istation has some advantages over DIBELS, which stands for Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. It is $1.3 million less expensive, costing a total of $600,000, and the computerized format is expected to save teachers time.

The assessment covers eight areas, including spelling, letter knowledge, vocabulary, text fluency and reading comprehension. It divides students into three tiers based on their results, with low performers receiving extra monthly monitoring.

Like DIBELS, Istation scores will factor into teachers’ annual evaluations, a concern for board member Don Duran.

“It is unfair,” he said. “It is not the way it should be. I just don’t get it.”

Duran said teachers are being set up for failure because they are constantly asked to do more with less.

Board member Barbara Petersen questioned whether Istation has been thoroughly reviewed for validity, adding that she is unsure a computer test is a good way to measure literacy.

“Reading is a kinesthetic activity,” she said.

McKernan also noted that young children can break iPads and computers.

Districts across the state are having similar discussions.

A few weeks ago, the New Mexico School Boards Association debated Istation and voted to send Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera a letter asking her to reconsider rolling out the test this year.

Joe Guillen, NMSBA executive director, said the 25 to 30 members of the board who attended the meeting unanimously backed the letter. The organization has a total of 40 board members drawn from New Mexico’s 89 school districts.

“We feel that it couldn’t have been a worse time for our teachers coming back to school,” Guillen told the Journal . “The timing is very cumbersome for districts to implement.”

PED has not formally responded, according to Guillen.

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