A Legacy of Trust in Education
For more than two decades, Istation has supported educators and empowered learners with an all-in-one solution for online assessment, instruction, and personalized learning. During this time the company has served over 17 million students and close to 1 million teachers all over the world.
This year we are proudly celebrating 25 years of educational excellence! Hear from a few of the company’s founders about its historic milestones throughout the years.
Rooted in Research
It’s not a surprise to educators when they hear that giving the gift of reading to a child opens the whole world to them. It’s with this in mind that founders Richard Collins, Robert Rubin, and Bill Lowrey set out to build a program founded in research.
“We have always been research-based from the very beginning,” said Rubin, Istation’s chief information officer.
Rubin explained that what spurred the formation of the company was a desire to support students who might be missing skill development during their school day.
“If students’ educational experience falls short in other areas,” Rubin said, then at least students and teachers “will all have a good research-based, excellent experience with Istation.”
From scientific and independent research studies to feedback through surveys, focus groups, and qualitative interviews, the science behind learning to read served as Istation’s foundation.
Richard Collins, Istation’s chairman and CEO, has a rich family history rooted in education. From his great-grandfather who was a teacher to his aunt who was a long-time trustee on the board at Dallas’s Southern Methodist University, Collins had a vested interest in making educators’ lives easier and improving learning for students.
Rubin and Lowrey also have a history in educational technology. They met early in their professional careers working at a variety of telecom and technology startups. As young parents, they both knew they needed something steady and reliable to provide for their growing families. They found themselves at a crossroads when their latest startup employers could no longer afford to pay them.
“I had one of those life-changing moments where I’m staring at the ceiling, and I think, ‘I want to do something that makes the world better for kids,’” Lowrey explained. “I want to give more to the world than I'm taking.”
Collins, Rubin, and Lowrey arrived at Istation with these shared goals. They made some adjustments to a computer-based training software model and began Imagination Station, aka Istation.
A Solutions-Oriented Approach
In the late 1990s, when Istation was founded, elementary reading faced a variety of challenges. First, reading assessments required an extensive and time-consuming process.
“It was one-on-one between the teacher and student,” Lowrey explained. “And so they would have to interrupt their classroom time and block out about two weeks for them to get through each student in the classroom and then send those [assessments] off, and maybe six weeks later, they would get some results back, which by then were already stale.”
Additionally, computer-based educational materials were only available via CD-ROM, and schools only purchased updated versions every few years at best. They also lacked any instructional content, offering students only the opportunity to practice material they’d already learned.
Istation’s founders decided to take action and meet the needs of the education community. “When we started in 1998, the term ‘software-as-a-service’ didn’t exist yet, but we created that,” Lowrey said.
“Our goal was to provide subscription-based software with Disney-quality animation that updated regularly for schools to run on their computers that would teach kids to read,” Collins said.
The software would help teachers assess students’ reading skills more quickly than pen and paper testing and would also provide engaging instruction for students to practice those skills. They were able to turn this dream into a reality in just a few years.
Transformational Milestones throughout the Years
2002: Achieves First Sale
After Istation opened its doors in 1998, the founders worked hard to develop and launch its first interactive reading program, Istation Reading. The company made its first big sale to Terrell Independent School District (ISD) in Texas making the curriculum available to students.
2005: Launches Digital Screener with Real-Time Results
A few years later the company was ready to launch its first digital reading screener. This new technology allowed educators to assess their entire classroom’s reading level in 30 minutes or less.
The program’s real-time results saved teachers at least two weeks of individual testing time plus the time to evaluate the assessments. Teachers could now immediately review students’ strengths and weaknesses, giving them specific direction on where to go next with groups of students or their entire class.
2008: Launches First Computer-Adaptive Assessment
Istation continued to improve its products, and in 2008 the company took things a step further by adding a computer-adaptive component to the assessment.
“I mean, that was practically unheard of,” Rubin said.
Until then, this type of technology was typically only seen in higher education and a small percentage of secondary schools.
The computer-adaptive tests use an algorithm to tailor the difficulty of each question to a learner’s abilities. This provides more accurate data to educators and requires fewer total questions than traditional tests.
2012: Wins First Statewide Deal in Texas
By 2012, Istation was ready for big things! The team pursued and landed a contract with the state of Texas by working with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Success Initiative.
“We began seeing year-over-year doublings of the students we handled,” Rubin shared. “This was a real turning point for our company’s growth.”
Collins fondly recalls the impact that helping educators in his home state had on him. One memory he said is etched in stone was getting Istation up and running for the school district in Jefferson, Texas. The implementation went smoothly, and the district’s scores improved in one year’s time from a D rating to a B.
“Every child matters,” Collins said. “Every child we save makes a difference; saving one life is enough.”
Istation was able to gain insights from this first state deal in order to adapt the program to better serve students, teachers, and families. Because of the time working with Texas schools, Istation was able to develop and deliver new features and functionality like assignments and the parent portal.
2020: Supports At-Home Learning
The momentum persisted as Istation continued to grow and meet the needs of the market. In 2020, the entire education landscape was challenged by a worldwide pandemic, and Istation was prepared to respond.
Along with other education providers, Istation’s creatives had to think on their feet to ensure students were still learning despite not being able to learn in the classroom.
Fortunately, some top-notch creative skills and quick decision-making enabled Istation’s team to develop a solution to respond to their customers’ needs, reworking the code to allow students to assess at home, where they spent most of their time.
“We spent years making sure that students could only take their assessments in school,” Lowrey recalled. “And in the course of a weekend, we just kind of turned on a dime.”
Students could now learn anywhere at any time with Istation’s program.
2023: Partners with Educator Community
As classrooms returned to in-person learning, Istation took the initiative to create a place for educators to learn, connect, and share their classroom experiences. To kick off 2023, Istation launched its new online community, the Red Cape Community. This interactive platform made it possible for educators everywhere to listen to and learn from each other. Plus, they got the product support they needed from Istation experts and peers using the program as well.
The community offers professional development, networking, and collaboration opportunities for members. They have access to exclusive content not found on the company’s social media channels. Read more about this exclusive group and learn how to join.
What’s on the Horizon
Facing many challenges over the years, Lowrey wondered if the efforts were worthwhile. An unexpected encounter cemented his resolve: While riding in a car with friends, he was astonished to hear their son singing one of the songs from Istation.
Curious, Lowrey asked the child where he had learned the song, and the response filled him with joy. The parents revealed that their child struggled in school and disliked the traditional teaching methods. However, the engaging and personalized approach of Istation resonated with him, igniting a newfound enthusiasm for learning.
Lowrey takes pride in knowing that Istation had an early impact on the life of this child who went on to pursue a degree in international relations and spend time in Paris.
The founders of Istation embarked on a mission to create a lasting educational solution for their children and students everywhere. With their significant achievements over the past 25 years, coupled with advancements in technology and educational research, Istation's future shines bright.