State Superintendent Mark Johnson contends “inaction” by the N.C. Department of Information Technology (DIT) forced him to make an “emergency purchase” for services from Istation to allow school districts to conduct mandatory mid-year reading assessments of the state’s K-3 students.
“Due to NCDIT’s actions (blocking the diagnostic and then inaction (taking more than five months, thus far, to conduct its review), there was no reading diagnostic in place and educators were justifiably demanding a solution,” Johnson said in response to DIT questions about the emergency purchase.
Johnson’s claims were made in response to a letter the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) received from DIT on Friday warning that Johnson may have violated state law by not getting DIT approval before making the purchase.
Patti Bowers, DIT’s chief procurement officer, also warned that Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette may exercise his authority to cancel or suspend the contract because Johnson did not receive approval to make the purchase.
Johnson was given until 10 a.m., Tuesday to answer five questions about the emergency purchase worth more than $928,000.
Click here to see Johnson’s responses to DIT’s questions.
Johnson contends he had little choice in executing the emergency contract because the state’s Read to Achieve law requires that a diagnostic tool is in place to assess reading levels of K-3 students.
He also noted that mid-year assessments are underway and that more than 500,000 tests are scheduled to be given this month.
“If there is no reading diagnostic in place, then DPI, the State Board of Education, and our public schools will be in violation of state law and an entire class of students will be deprived of benchmark statistics used to guide decisions on how to better meet their needs,” Johnson said.
An administrative hearing on the merits of the controversial $8.3 million, three-year contract award to Istation is currently underway. The hearing is scheduled to conclude on Thursday, but it’s doubtful a decision will be made this week.
DIT Chief Counsel Jonathan Shaw is the presiding hearing officer. Boyette will make the final decision in the case.
Amplify, an Istation competitor whose mClass assessment tool had been used in North Carolina’s K-3 classrooms for several years, filed a protest over the summer contending the contract was unfairly awarded. In August, the DIT granted Amplify a temporary stay against the use of the Istation reading assessment tool.
Shaw upheld the stay in December, contending 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.”
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 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 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.