K-3 teachers will use Istation for next two months under new contract

As a legal dispute continues on which tool the state’s public schools will use to assess their youngest readers, a short-term contract with one of the competing vendors, Istation, has been canceled, resubmitted, and now approved.

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has agreed to pay more than $928,000 to Istation, an e-learning company, to test the reading progress of K-3 students until the end of March. The Department of Information Technology (DIT) is working to decide whether Istation or a competitor, Amplify, will get the long-term contract under North Carolina’s Read to Achieve program. 

Eric Boyette, DIT secretary and the state’s chief information officer, on Thursday canceled Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson’s attempt to sign the contract this month as an emergency measure. Boyette said that Johnson’s department had time to figure out a solution before an earlier interim agreement with Istation ran out at the end of December, and he said Johnson did not ask DIT’s permission to make the deal.

Boyette said in a letter Thursday to DPI that “NCDPI staff could have contacted myself or staff of the N.C. Department of Information Technology seeking verbal approval to develop and execute the purchase as required by the Administrative Code. No attempt was made to contact me or my staff.”

A DIT decision on the long-term vendor could come by late February. Because of the ongoing legal dispute over DPI’s procurement process and choice of Istation last summer, a DIT stay has kept the state from paying Istation to implement its tool in classrooms. Istation had chosen to do so for free under an interim deal.

That agreement ran out at the end of December. After a Superior Court judge decided not to remove DIT’s stay on Jan. 7, Johnson signed a separate contract with Istation later that evening, citing a state procurement rule that allows for emergency purchases.

But Johnson did not seek approval from DIT before that contract was signed as required by the procurement rule. Patti Bowers, DIT’s chief procurement officer, said the circumstances did not constitute an emergency, and she asked Johnson to justify the contract’s need. 

Johnson responded that the after-hours purchase was necessary so that middle-of-year reading assessments could continue the following day. 

Last week, Boyette canceled that contract and invited DPI to follow the proper process and try again. DPI did so, and DIT approved the emergency contract Friday. The contract is identical to the one DIT canceled, DPI spokesperson Graham Wilson said Monday.

To catch up on the legal dispute between DPI, Istation, and Amplify, click through the timeline below.

Liz Bell is an early learning reporter for EducationNC.

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