In the News & Observer article, “Company challenges NC’s new contract to test young students using computers,” Education Reporter T. Keung Hui shines a light on North Carolina’s handling of a multimillion-dollar contract to change how it tests the reading progress of kindergarten through third grade students. Smith Anderson client and the State’s current reading diagnostics provider, Amplify Education, Inc. (Amplify), is challenging how this contract was awarded and claims it was improperly passed over by State education officials.
In a bid protest filed by Smith Anderson attorney Mitch Armbruster, on June 24, 2019, New York-based Amplify contends that its mClass product is superior to the Istation product chosen by the State Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to assess children’s reading progress. Amplify cites to reports that mClass was recommended by an evaluation committee formed by State Superintendent Mark Johnson, but that the Superintendent went against the committee’s recommendation, choosing Istation instead. Amplify is asking DPI to suspend or terminate its contract with Istation while the protest is reviewed.
“As many who participated in this evaluation have now stated publicly, Amplify was the most qualified bidder and should have been awarded the contract,” Armbruster says in the protest letter. “Its solution would be the best value to the State of North Carolina.”
As part of its protest, Amplify cites posts from the evaluation committee leader, who says that the DPI evaluation committee found mClass to be better than Istation and that Istation didn’t meet North Carolina’s needs. DPI has since defended how the contract was awarded and has also denied that the committee recommended mClass.
In early June, Johnson announced that he signed a three-year, $8.3 million contract with Istation. According to the N&O article, the Istation program will put children in kindergarten through third grade on a computer three times a year to test their reading skills, then print out reports for teachers. However, with the mClass program, students read aloud to teachers to help assess their skills, which Amplify has found to be a more effective assessment method.
“Because school is starting very soon and the State Board of Education intends to further review the award, forcing a rapid implementation of a new product while a protest is pending (and while most teachers are not at work and not available to be trained) would be ill-advised,” Armbruster writes.
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