Superintendent Mark Johnson’s ‘other’ plan is an emergency contract to keep Istation in classrooms

State Superintendent Mark Johnson said Tuesday that he was exploring “other options” to keep the Istation reading assessment tool in schools after a superior court judge declined to lift a stay restricting its use.

We learned Wednesday that Johnson has signed an emergency contract with Istation worth of $928,570 to keep the controversial assessment tool in classrooms through March.

Johnson was notably absent from Wednesday’s State Board of Education (SBE) where he was scheduled to deliver a report on Read to Achieve and the state’s third-grade retention policy.

Before the holidays, Johnson dropped a bombshell, alleging that more than 70,000 students have been promoted since 2014 despite not meeting Read to Achieve requirements.

The SBE went into closed-session early Wednesday where it will presumably discuss the Istation contract.

Johnson’s emergency purchase comes one day after a superior court judge declined to lift a stay that prevents the state from awarding Istation the state’s $8.3 million reading assessment contract mandated by North Carolina’s Read to Achieve law.

Judge Mary Ann Tally’s decision to not rule in the matter left the state without a tool to assess the reading levels of the state’s K-3 students.

Istation had been implementing its program in state schools for free since August but that arrangement ended in December.

An administrative hearing is scheduled for Jan. 13 to consider whether the state contract was properly awarded. It’s doubtful the case will be resolved next week, so Johnson’s temporary contract with Istation will allow schools to continue assessing students using the Istation program.

DPI and Istation were in court Tuesday seeking 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.”

Tiffany Lucas, a special deputy attorney general with the N.C. Department of Justice representing DPI, said Tuesday that DPI would be unable to meet its “constitutional” and “statutory” obligations to North Carolina’s school children.

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 Amplify’s Class 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 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.

This is a developing story.



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