Company asks NC to throw out new reading contract that has sparked controversy

The company that lost out on a new multi-million dollar contract to test the reading skills of North Carolina elementary school students is appealing the decision and asking that the new contract be put on hold.

Amplify Education Inc. asked the state Department of Information Technology on Friday to throw out the three-year, $8.3 million contract that State Superintendent Mark Johnson awarded to Istation to test K-3 students. Last week, Johnson upheld his decision to pick Istation instead of continuing to use Amplify’s mClass program.

“Today Amplify filed a Request for Administrative Hearing with the NC Department of Information Technology, which has the final agency authority to issue a decision on the DPI contract award,” Larry Berger, Amplify’s chief executive officer, said in a statement Friday. “Also, we asked DIT to stay, or pause, the contract award to Istation before the start of the school year, while the protest is under consideration.

“This request is consistent with the those of superintendents and educators across the state.”

After superintendents across the state had asked for a delay, Johnson announced a six-month delay in using the test data from Istation.

Since the Read To Achieve program began in 2013, K-3 teachers have had students read out loud to them using mClass to assess their skills. Under Istation, students will be tested on a computer program, with the results being provided to teachers.

The decision to switch has been controversial, with teachers across the state questioning the change on social media. Istation has said that teachers who are now being trained in the new program will come to like it.

Public records show Johnson overrode the recommendations from an evaluation committee, which he had formed, that said the state should continue to use the mClass.

In his decision rejecting the appeal, Johnson accused the evaluation committee of “employing biased procedures” that benefited Amplify and having made false statements about Istation. He also said that some committee members violated the confidentiality of the procurement process by discussing it with outsiders.

After the decision was announced last week, Istation called on Amplify to stop its appeal.

“It is time to bring closure to this matter so that teachers and students can move forward,” Istation said in a statement. “Istation is committed to teachers and parents in the years ahead to deliver the results that North Carolina’s students deserve.”

Berger said Friday that many districts are choosing to extend their relationship with Amplify for the upcoming school year. That would require districts to use their own local funding unless state lawmakers give permission for state funds to be used.

A group of 13 state Senate Democrats asked Senate leader Phil Berger to form a committee to investigate how the contract was awarded. Sen. Berger declined, saying he wanted the appeal process to run its course first.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.