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I see the Mayor is getting out his signs again this year. This is a welcome sight because he deserves another term for...

State temporarily halts implementation on new K-3 reading software

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By Amber Revels-Stocks
Staff Writer

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The N.C. Department of Information Technology on Monday granted a motion to temporarily halt implementation of the Istation reading software while it reviews the contract.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced the three-year, $8.3 million contract with Istation on June 7, just days before the end of the school year. School districts across the state have been training their teachers how to administer the software, which tests the reading skills of students in kindergarten through third grade.

Amplify, the maker of mClass, appealed the decision, but Johnson moved forward with launching Istation for the 2019-20 school year. He detailed the process of awarding the contract to Istation in a July 26 letter.

On Aug. 2, Amplify filed a request for an administrative hearing with the Department of Information Technology, which provides technology services to state agencies. The department agreed to hear Amplify’s complaint and issued the motion.

As a result, Istation implementation must halt. A prehearing conference will take place on Oct. 8 for the purpose of scheduling the hearing, according to the Department of Information Technology.

Pitt County Schools is waiting on guidance from the state but is continuing training teachers to use the Istation software, according to a statement issued on Wednesday.

“Pitt County Schools is continuing with planned Istation training for our staff in order to familiarize ourselves with the product and to prepare for the anticipated implementation," the statement read. "We are awaiting further guidance from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction regarding the recent developments involving Istation."

Before this year, teachers used mClass to assess student reading. Public records show that the evaluation committee convened by the state to recommend a program also chose mClass. However, Johnson chose to move forward with Istation.

“We are already getting positive feedback from educators who have been trained on the new system,” Johnson wrote in an email to teachers on Monday.

On Tuesday, he issued a statement that added, “Istation is the best reading diagnostic tool for teachers, students and parents. There were problems with the procurement process, but the final decision was fair, objective and followed all rules, policies and laws.”

However, Amplify argues that Istation “did not meet the state’s mandatory standards,” specifically those for dyslexic students, and does not provide sufficient data to allow teachers to modify instruction.

Johnson specifically addressed those claims in the July 26 letter, saying they were incorrect.

“Istation meets the requirements of law. … Istation screens for dyslexia,” he wrote.

Currently, Istation is “evaluating the implications” of Monday’s decision, according to a statement released on Wednesday.

“(We) have not been asked to change course on the implementation process that is well underway in schools across the state," Ossa Fisher, Istation president, wrote. "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.

"Istation was legally and appropriately awarded the contract by the Department of Public Instruction in June and we remain confident that our contract will be upheld in the legal process," Fisher wrote. "We look forward to continuing our work with North Carolina's students as the school year begins."

The company already has trained teachers and administers to use the program and has assessed more than 7,000 North Carolina students to date, according to the statement.

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