Education

State Superintendent Mark Johnson takes offense at DIT ruling upholding stay in Istation controversy

State Superintendent Mark Johnson

Superintendent Mark Johnson is pushing back against a state Department of Information Technology (DIT) ruling that upholds a stay blocking the award of the state’s K-3 reading diagnostic contract to Istation.

Amplify, an Istation competitor that previously held the contract, appealed the $8.3 million award, claiming irregularities in the procurement process.

The change from Amplify’s mClass reading assessment tool for K-3 students to Istation has fueled criticism of Johnson for months and put him at odds with DIT.

On Monday, Johnson directed his criticism at Jonathan Shaw, the chief counsel for DIT, who issued a split decision Monday, upholding Amplify’s request for a stay but denying its request to stop Istation from training teachers for free on the new reading diagnostic tool while the legal issues are being hammered out.

“Shaw has already injured the work of DPI and DIT employees with the incompetence with which he has conducted this review process,” Johnson said. “Now, he is adding insult to injury with blatant mistakes that he is using to justify more bad decisions.”

In upholding the stay, Shaw ruled that the “evidence and arguments of record” are sufficient to indicate that NCDPI failed to comply with state law and information technology procurement rules and “jeopardized the integrity and fairness of the procurement process.”

Johnson disagreed.

He accused Shaw of making “clear factual errors.”

“[Jonathan] Shaw and DIT have not in any way, shape, or form followed the legal standard of review for ordering a stay,” Johnson said in a statement issued late Monday. “The stay put in place in August was inappropriate based on the simple fact alone that they never even gave DPI or other parties the chance to respond.”

Johnson cited two specific errors he claims Shaw made but said there are more that are “too numerous” to cover.

One alleged error involved whether DPI informed vendors of the evaluation criteria that would be used to make the contract award.

Despite Shaw’s claim, Johnson said both Amplify and Istation were provided the evaluation criteria in a letter that DPI drafted under the guidance of DIT staffers.

“The vendor’s proposals based on those criteria went through a fair evaluation process guided by DIT staff,” Johnson said.

Johnson also took issue with Shaw’s claim that DPI only put DPI employees on the negotiation evaluation committee who had previously voted for Istation. He said half of the members of the final committee had never voted on the two previous Requests for Proposals.

Shaw also determined:

  • There’s sufficient information to indicate that NCDPI failed to fully consider the minimum required factors listed in state law and instead, relieved on other evaluation factors in making the contract award.
  • There’s sufficient information to indicate NCDPI evaluated different negotiation criteria than what was presented to vendors in a March 21 negotiation letter.
  • There’s sufficient information to indicate NCDPI not only changed the evaluation criteria but altered the ranking of the importance of remaining criteria in a way that benefited Istation.
  • There’s sufficient information to indicate that NCDPI did not notify the parties of changes to solicitations documents in violation of state procurement rules.

Johnson has claimed that the procurement process was tainted. He contends, among other things, that some committee members breached confidentiality and were biased in ways that tilted the evaluation in favor of Amplify.

But many teachers have been critical of the switch from mClass to Istation. They have questioned the procurement process and contend Johnson ignored the recommendations of an evaluation committee that ranked mClass over Istation.

The reading diagnostic tool is a companion to the state’s signature education program, “Read to Achieve,” which was launched in 2013 to ensure every student reads at or above grade level by the end of third grade.

The results haven’t been great even as North Carolina has spent $150 million on the initiative. More than half of the state’s children in K-3 are still not reading at grade level.

Istation told local media outlets that more than 180,000 North Carolina students in grades K-3 have been assessed using its reading diagnostic tool this month.

 

DIT December 2019 Order (PDF)

DIT December 2019 Order (Text)

 

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