Education

Judge Mary Ann Tally makes no decision in Istation hearing

Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Tally made no decision Tuesday in a hearing to lift legal restrictions on the use of Istation to assess the reading levels of North Carolina’s students in grades K-3.

Presiding in Wake County Superior Court, Tally, a visiting judge from Fayetteville, was not convinced she had jurisdiction to rule on the complex legal matter.

“Therefore, I’m not going to take any action whatsoever,” Tally said.

Tally’s remarks were directed at attorneys for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI), Istation and Amplify, a competing vendor who lost the state’s reading assessment contract to Istation in a controversial procurement process.

Her decision to not rule in the case has DPI looking for other options to provide students with the reading assessments mandated under the state’s Read to Achieve law.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson issued this statement after Tuesday’s court hearing:

“Today, a superior court said it shouldn’t consider the concerns raised by the handling of this protest until after NC DIT’s final decision. Now, with both the courts and our schools held up, we are exploring other options to ensure that students, teachers, and parents continue to have access to a reading diagnostic tool this year.”

DPI and Istation sought relief from stays handed down by the N.C. Department of Information Technology (DIT). In August, the DIT granted Amplify a temporary stay against the use of the Istation reading assessment tool after Amplify complained about the contract award.

Jonathan Shaw, the chief counsel for DIT, upheld the stay in December, contending that the “evidence and arguments of record” are sufficient to indicate that DPI failed to comply with state law and information technology procurement rules and “jeopardized the integrity and fairness of the procurement process.”

Without a favorable ruling from Tally, Tiffany Lucas, a special deputy attorney general with the N.C. Department of Justice representing DPI, said DPI would be unable to meet its “constitutional” and “statutory” obligations to North Carolina’s school children.

An administrative hearing is set for Jan. 13 to consider the merit of whether the contract was awarded properly. Johnson awarded the $8.3 million reading assessment contract to Istation in June. Amplify protested the process.

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 and its mClass reading assessment tool previously used by the state.

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 has been training teachers to use the reading diagnostic tool for free. It said last month that more than 180,000 North Carolina students in grades K-3 have been assessed using its reading diagnostic tool.

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