Senate Democrats call for legislative review of Istation contract award

The swirling controversy around State Superintendent Mark Johnson’s decision to hand an $8.3 million K-3 reading assessment contract to Istation instead of the firm that won a selection committee’s recommendation has moved to the state legislature.

On Wednesday, a group of Senate Democrats called for a legislative review of the contract award to Istation over Amplify, which scored higher and was twice the selection committee’s clear choice.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake

“The facts around this contract are troubling,” said Senate Democratic Whip Jay Chaudhuri. “Superintendent [Mark] Johnson ignored expert opinion on identifying the best tool to help our kids learn to read.”

Sen. Natasha Marcus, (D-Mecklenburg), said lawmakers need to know the truth in the wake of conflicting statements by Johnson and state education officials about the contract award.

“The timing, the process and the decisions made by Superintendent [Mark] Johnson call into question their commitment to serving the students’ best interest,” Marcus said. “Parents, educators and taxpayers deserve an explanation.”

In a letter to Senate Leader Phil Berger, (R-Rockingham), 13 Senate Democrats asked that a “Select Senate Committee” be established in consultation with the State Board of Education (SBE) to review the procurement process that led to the Istation selection.

As Senate President Pro Tempore, Berger has the authority to establish such a committee to review the Istation procurement process.

“The evaluation committee twice recommended an alternative tool, [Amplify’s] mClass, based on DPI’s ranked evaluation criteria,” the Senators said. “We call on you to exercise your authority to provide a Senate review of this process via a Select Committee in order to make sure we are serving the students’ best interests.”

Berger could not be reached for comment Wednesday. And an email message to his deputy chief of staff, Pat Ryan, went unanswered.

The Senators also asked for a one-year delay in the implementation of the Istation reading assessment tool.

Johnson and the State Board of Education (SBE) have agreed to move forward with implementation of Istation. However, data collection for teacher performance evaluations will be delayed until January.

The Senators’ letter comes days after a group of parents and public schools advocates held a press conference to ask State Attorney General Josh Stein and State Auditor Beth Wood to investigate the contract award.

The group also asked for a one-year delay in implementing the reading assessment program to give state officials adequate time to conduct an investigation.

“We see no reason why this hastily made decision cannot wait until a proper investigation is conducted before haphazardly implementing a system that does not appear to be the best for North Carolina,” Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators said at the press conference.

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