After pouring nearly $6 million into an out-of-state education company to help Idaho kids who struggle with the state's high-stakes tests, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna has abruptly ended the program.
In 2004, as the State Board of Education wrestled with the State Department of Education over testing, standards and No Child Left Behind Act funds, Plato Learning Inc., landed a $5.03 million contract for remediation—extra help on the Idaho Standards Achievement Test.
For the first few years, the Ed Board managed the remediation program, but in 2007, former executive director Karen Echeverria announced that the board would no longer pay for Plato because it was not receiving enough federal funding to cover the program.
So the State Department of Education, by then under Luna's direction, took over annual payments for the statewide computer learning system to the tune of $600,000 a year. Schools had come to depend on Plato, which for several years was among the only remediation programs they could access.
But according to an Oct. 30 memo Luna sent to school administrators, Plato was never reviewed to ensure it matched Idaho's curriculum.
"Upon further investigation, we at the department learned that Plato had never undergone a curricular materials review, as all state-approved vendors are required to do," Luna wrote in the memo. The department's recent review found that less than one-third of Plato's programs for each grade level in math, reading and language met the Idaho content standards, according to the memo.
A Plato spokesperson countered that the company's educational programs are aligned to standards in all 50 states and have helped more than 45,000 Idaho students and teachers.
"Plato Learning stands behind our own Idaho correlations assessment," said Plato vice president of marketing Terri Lynn Reden, in an e-mail.
Luna, in 2007, secured an additional $5 million a year in state funding for other remediation measures, though up to now the $600,000 payments to Plato came out of that remediation fund. Many districts use Plato's computer programs to assist students in passing the ISAT and as a path to graduation for some students.
In his memo, Luna assured administrators that alternative remediation programs are being investigated and that they can continue to use certain Plato services even though the state has severed its contract with the company.