DALLAS No matter how much they know when they sit down to take the STAAR test, many Texas students don't know how they will perform. But a Dallas company believes it can accurately predict how a pupil will do on the STAAR.

The company Istation produces what you might call 'edutainment' products that educate kids while entertaining them with animated characters.

'That grabs their attention and holds it and as they are doing it,' said Dan Kuenster, Istation's creative director. 'They don't even realize they are learning.'

The material is all based on what's covered on the big state exam. About two million Texas students are currently using the Istation program, including school kids in Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland, and Frisco.

Here's how the system works:

  • Students take an assessment test on Istation. The program then starts them off at a learning level appropriate for their skills.
  • Monthly follow-up tests are performed.
  • The program automatically 'graduates' students to a higher level, or re-teaches material in areas where students are deficient.

'If you walk into a room full of students, they are all on different parts of the curriculum,' explained Bill Fahle, Istation's director of development research.

As the students progress, their teacher gets real-time updates on which child needs more help with what. The program even gives the teacher mini lesson plans to enhance specific problem areas identified for a particular student.

'We're the teacher's friend,' Kuenster said. 'It's like having a whole room full of assistant teachers.'

Recently, Istation itself passed a crucial test, too. Studying more than 20,000 3rd through 8th grade Garland ISD students, the company said it was able to draw a parallel between how kids scored on the Istation test and then later on the STAAR test.

'What we found is, there is a very high correlation between these tests,' Fahle said.

In fact, the company says with 95 percent confidence, their program was able to tell ahead of time how a student would do on the STAAR.

They add that follow-up research (not yet published) indicates there's also a strong correlation between program use and improving STAAR scores.

The liaison at Garland ISD working with the Istation program was unavailable to offer the district's perspective on the results.

Istation designers update the program regularly throughout the year and are now hard at work on the next generations of the software. The say the system now being used in 34 states costs about $6,000 per school per year for unlimited use even by students at home.

The program is offered free of charge by the state for 3rd through 8th graders.


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