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Istation ordered to halt implementation of K-3 reading assessment tool in N.C. schools

State Superintendent Mark Johnson

This story has been updated to include statements from Ossa Fisher, president and COO of Istation. 

Istation must stop implementing its K-3 reading assessment program in North Carolina’s schools pending a review of the controversial process by which the company was awarded the state’s $8.3 million reading assessment contract.

That’s the word from the N.C. Department of Information Technology (DIT), which granted Amplify’s request for a stay in the disputed contract award to competitor Istation.

Amplify asked DIT to step in after Superintendent Mark Johnson rejected the firm’s appeal of his decision to award the contract to Istation.

The news of DIT’s ruling comes days before thousands of traditional calendar schools prepare to open their doors for the 2019-20 school year. Teachers across the state have already begun to train on the Istation assessment tool, which replaced Amplify’s mClass.

“This decision means that Istation must halt its implementation while the proceeding is pending with DIT,” said Amplify CEO Larry Berger. “We look forward to working with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and DIT to ensure that all educators in the state have the critical opportunity to understand their students’ reading development at the beginning of the school year, just as they have in the past.”

Johnson said the stay would cause disruptions.

“I am disappointed in this stay as it sows unnecessary confusion for our educators just as the school year starts but am confident that the decision the State Board [of Education] and I made in support of a positive change will stand,” Johnson said.

He stood by his earlier claim that Istation is the “best reading diagnostic tool for teachers, students, and parents.”

“There were problems with the procurement process, but the final decision was fair, objective, and followed all rules, policies, and laws,” Johnson said. “This has been clearly detailed in a public letter.”

Meanwhile, Istation President and COO Ossa Fisher issued a statement late Wednesday saying the firm has not been asked to stop its work implementing Istation in North Carolina schools.

“Istation will continue the work we started in North Carolina this summer training teachers and helping students develop critical grade level reading skills for a successful school year,” Fisher said.

She said Istation was “legally and appropriately” awarded the contract by the DPI and remains confident the contract will be upheld in the legal process.

Many teachers have been critical of the switch from mClass to Istation.

They have also questioned the process by which the contract was awarded, contending Johnson ignored the recommendations of an evaluation committee that ranked mClass over Istation.

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

N.C. Families For School Testing Reform and the N.C. Association of Educators have asked Attorney General Josh Stein, State Auditor Beth Wood to take a look at the process used to award the contract.

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