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Johnson signs new contract with Istation while stays remain on old one

Update on Monday, Jan. 27: The Department of Public Instruction entered into a contract with Istation to test K-3 readers until the end of March after the Department of Information Technology canceled Johnson’s emergency purchase. For more details, go here.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson signed a more than $928,000 contract yesterday to purchase a reading assessment tool from Istation while a legal fight over the state’s original contract with the company continues.

After the state Superior Court left stays in place Tuesday on the Department of Public Instruction (DPI)’s contract with Istation, Johnson sent an email to teachers explaining that they could still use the tool for K-3 middle-of-year reading assessments.

DPI had argued in Superior Court Tuesday that the stays left them with no option to test young readers as part of the state’s Read to Achieve legislation aimed at increasing lagging reading proficiency. But Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Tally decided she did not have jurisdiction in the case with a Department of Information Technology (DIT) hearing scheduled for next week.

“All – earlier today, a court decided to wait until after the final decision from DIT to review the multiple issues from the Read to Achieve protest,” Johnson’s email read.

“As a result, we just executed an emergency purchase with Istation pursuant to procurement rule 09 NCAC 06B .1302 in order to ensure the continuation of our obligations under the Read to Achieve legislation.”

The procurement rule Johnson mentions above allows agencies to “make purchases of goods or services in the open market in cases of emergency or pressing need.”

Read to Achieve legislation requires K-3 students “be assessed with valid, reliable, formative, and diagnostic reading assessments made available to local school administrative units by the State Board of Education pursuant to G.S. 115C-174.11(a).”

Since the state’s former assessment vendor Amplify protested the Istation contract last summer, DIT issued a stay on the contract until a hearing on the state’s procurement process and final contract award could occur. Istation has been providing its services to the state for free in the meantime. That no-charge agreement ended on December 31.

Istation President Ossa Fisher said in a statement that the company is pleased DPI will continue its work implementing the tool in classrooms.

“We are honored to be able to support the students and educators of North Carolina through this new contract with The Department of Public Instruction,” Fisher said. “We are glad we were chosen to help DPI fulfill their constitutional obligation and continue the work we started earlier this academic year.”

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.