Education, News

More legal twists, turns in the Istation saga

Superintendent Mark Johnson

The Istation saga took another legal turn on Monday.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) filed a petition asking the Superior Court of Wake County to lift a stay that bars the state from awarding the state’s $8.3 million reading assessment contract to Istation.

The stay was imposed in August by the N.C. Department of Information (NCDIT) after the validity of the award was called into question by Istation competitor, Amplify, which previously held North Carolina’s K-3 reading assessment contract.

Jonathan Shaw, the chief counsel for NCDIT, upheld Amplify’s request for a stay last week but denied its request to stop Istation from training teachers for free on the new reading diagnostic tool while the legal issues are being hammered out.

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.”

In Monday’s petition, Superintendent Mark Johnson and NCDPI asked the court to review NCDIT’s hearing process, arguing that its hearing officers exceeded their authority and violated NCDPI’s due process rights by not following proper procedure when entering the stay.

NCDPI also argued that the state’s Read to Achieve mandates the state provides a reading diagnostic tool. Read to Achieve is the state’s signature public education initiative. It was created in 2012 with the goal of having all third-graders reading on grade level.

“NC public schools are required by law to provide one consistent reading evaluation tool statewide, and Istation is the best tool,” State Superintendent Mark Johnson said in a statement. “The response from the majority of the teachers who have used Istation has been positive.”

NCDPI reports that 450,000 students in grades K-3 have enrolled in the program and one million assessments have been completed.

The switch from Amplify’s mClass reading assessment tool for K-3 students to Istation has been a source of controversy for months.

Johnson has accused Shaw of making factual errors in denying the contract award to Istation.

“[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 last week. “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.

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 NCDPI 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 NCDIT staffers.

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

Johnson also took issue with Shaw’s claim that NCDPI only put NCDPI 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.

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