Education, News

Superintendent Mark Johnson pushes back against DIT’s stay on Istation implementation

The dispute over the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s (DPI) contract with Istation to provide teachers with a reading assessment tool for students in grades K-3 ratcheted up Thursday.

Superintendent Mark Johnson accused the N.C. Department of Information and Technology (DIT) of issuing an improper injunction to halt implementation of the controversial assessment tool in K-3 classrooms.

“DIT improperly issued an injunction on the reading diagnostic contract this week that ignored due process and was in contradiction of state law and their own agency rules,” Johnson said in a statement. “DIT rendered a decision after only hearing arguments from one party, the losing vendor, and failed to give DPI its proper chance to respond.”

Johnson is referring to a temporary stay DIT issued this week in response to a request from Amplify Education to halt implementation of the reading assessment tool until DIT reviews the process by which the contract was awarded to its competitor, Istation.

Amplify made the request after Johnson refused to grant it an appeal. The state previously used Amplify’s mClass to assess reading proficiency in K-3 students.

Johnson said DPI has filed a motion to dissolve the stay.

“DIT lawyers need to understand they are accountable to North Carolinians, not the CEO of Amplify,” Johnson said. “Given that DIT procurement specialists advised DPI throughout the procurement process, it is odd to begin with that the same department that approved the process is now in charge of reviewing that same process.”

On Wednesday, Amplify and Istation issued conflicting statements about the implementation of the reading assessment tool.

Amplify claimed DIT’s stay forced Istation to stop implementing the program in North Carolina Schools. But Istation President and COO Ossa Fisher said the firm would continue its work.

“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 in a statement.

The conflicting statements have left some school districts confused about how to proceed.

“DIT has thrown this process into chaos, which is unacceptable, careless, and unnecessary,” Johnson said.

He said DPI is reviewing its options to eliminate “the uncertainty in our schools” created by DIT and Amplify’s “frivolous protest.”

“Istation is the best reading diagnostic for NC students, parents, and educators,” Johnson said. “If you get outside the Raleigh Beltline or out of Uptown Charlotte, you get to read how Istation is already working.”

Teachers across North Carolina have been critical of the switch from mClass to Istation.

Many of them 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.

NC 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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