State picks reading test contractor — unofficially

(UPDATED, 12:13 p.m., with details from State Department of Education.)

The state has picked a contractor — sort of — to redo the Idaho Reading Indicator.

Dallas-based Istation, or Imagination Station, is Idaho’s preferred bidder to revamp the IRI, a screening test administered to kindergartners through third-graders.

But Thursday’s news answers a few questions, and leaves others unanswered.

What happened this week? On Monday, the State Department of Education sent Istation an “intent to award letter.” That means state superintendent Sherri Ybarra wants to award the contract to Istation — but this does not constitute a contract award.

The SDE announced the decision in a Thursday morning news release.

What happens next? First and foremost, Gov. Butch Otter and the Legislature have to decide whether they want to pay to replace the IRI. Ybarra’s 2017-18 budget request includes $5.9 million to revamp or replace the test. Any funding would be available on July 1, and that’s when the new contract would kick in.

Who is Istation? Founded in 1998, the company says it provides e-learning programs used by 4 million students and teachers worldwide. The company hasn’t done any statewide work, SDE spokesman Jeff Church said Thursday, but some districts may be using its products.

So, how much does Istation stand to make? That’s unclear. In Thursday’s news release, the SDE said Istation’s bid received the highest possible score on cost issues, offering “the most affordable solution” for replacing or revamping the IRI. However, the release said nothing about the actual cost.

“All proposals, including cost proposals and financials, received by the Idaho State Department of Education are currently being properly redacted and will be made available once completed,” Church said Thursday. “All pending or future requests for proposals will be met once proper redactions have been made.”

What would the new test look like? That’s also unclear — in part, because Istation’s proposal remains under wraps.

Idaho Education News has filed a public records request for the proposals from Istation and four other prospective vendors: Curriculum Associates; FastBridge Learning; Pearson Education; and Renaissance.

On Dec. 5, Church declined an initial request for the proposals. He said the proposals were given to 13 members of a review committee, and they all signed a non-disclosure agreement.

On Wednesday, the SDE said it would need more time “to locate, retrieve and/or copy those public records that may fall within the scope of (Idaho Education News’) request,” and said it would release documents by Jan. 3, 2017.

What do we know about the process? In October, Ybarra said she would be looking for a bidder to rewrite or replace the IRI. Bids were due Nov. 29.

The SDE assembled a review committee to look at the proposals. The panel included “several reading specialists, a literacy coach, a principal, a kindergarten teacher and a Boise State University literacy, language, and culture specialist,” the SDE said Thursday. (Idaho Education News has requested the names of the committee members.) The committee was supposed to make a recommendation, Church said earlier this month, but Ybarra makes the final decision on a contractor.

“Of the three proposals responsive to the (request for proposals), the evaluators ranked Istation as the highest in the quality of the work sought to be accomplished,” the SDE said Thursday.

Why replace the IRI? The state has used this 15- to 20-minute screening test for more than 15 years — although it has been tweaked along the way.

Some educators say the test has several shortcomings. First, while the IRI helps teachers identify at-risk readers, it does not diagnose possible problems. Second, the test measures students on reading speed, or fluency, and does not grade students for comprehension.

Ybarra and a State Board of Education committee both have agreed on the need to revamp or replace the IRI.

Find out more: Idaho Education News and Idaho Public Television’s “Idaho Reports” teamed up for an in-depth look at Idaho’s literacy initiative. Catch up here.


Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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