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Senate Democrats call for legislative review of DPI’s Istation pick

Updated: 5:18 p.m., July 30, 2019: Berger declined to establish the review committee, saying in a letter to Democrats: “It is my understanding that an active protest of the contract decision is currently underway and has not concluded. As current law and regulation outlines a clear process, and it appears that process is being followed, it is my opinion that legislative intervention is not appropriate at this time.

“Upon conclusion of the formal protest process, I am open to working together with you to determine what questions remain outstanding and the best way to get answers to those questions.”

See original article below.

The legislature is getting involved in the controversy swirling around the state’s switch in literacy assessment for K-3 classrooms this upcoming year. Today, Senate Democrats called for a legislative review of the state’s procurement process that led to Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson’s June announcement that Istation would be implemented in the fall.

The senators sent a letter to Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, asking for the establishment of a committee to review the process, saying that documents released by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) show the state’s evaluation team recommending the department stick with Amplify’s mCLASS.

“The facts around this contract are troubling,” said Senate Democratic Whip Jay Chaudhuri in a press release. “Superintendent Johnson ignored expert opinion on identifying the best tool to help our kids learn to read.”

DPI documents reveal confusion over narrative surrounding Istation decision

The release goes on to say that comments from DPI have been “conflicting,” referencing DPI spokesperson Graham Wilson’s insistence that no recommendation came from the evaluation committee, and Johnson’s later explanation in the released documents that the recommendation came from misinformation by the evaluation team members.

“The timing, the process and the decisions made by Superintendent Johnson call into question their commitment to serving the students’ best interests,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus, D-Mecklenburg, in the release. “Parents, educators and tax payers deserve an explanation.”

The letter also calls for at least a one-year implementation delay because of concerns about the procurement process and quick turnaround for teachers.

DPI did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter, though the department has stood by its choice, saying the process was fair and that the program is best for students. 

Parent advocacy group NC Families for Testing Reform has also called for an investigation into the decision.

Why are parents and educators calling for an investigation of Istation pick?

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, put forth an amendment to the Senate Read to Achieve reform bill Monday that would allow local districts to decide on their own reading diagnostic tools instead of having to go with the state’s choice. However, the Senate did not concur with that version of the bill, which now heads to a conference committee.

House throws DPI’s Istation pick for a loop

The full press release and letter to Berger are below.

Liz Bell

Liz Bell is the early childhood reporter for EducationNC.