DPI’s unreleased public records could shed light on how Istation won NC contract

Last week Superintendent Mark Johnson denied Amplify’s protest of his decision to award North Carolina’s $8.3 million K-3 reading assessment contract to Istation.  He no doubt hoped it would serve as his finishing move in a conflict that began nearly two months ago with his surprise announcement.

Istation President Ossa Fisher released a statement calling on “the losing vendor” to “accept the decision of the Department of Instruction, and discontinue its aggressive political and media campaign aimed at dividing the education community” so that North Carolina’s schools can move forward with the computer-based reading test.

For its part, Amplify will now most likely look to the Department of Information Technology to review the controversial procurement process in hopes that it will intervene.  And all across the state, teachers and students will begin to use a tool which a broad and knowledgeable team of educators decided was not the best choice for our kids.

I have spent untold hours this summer–as have many others–digging into what really happened with this procurement.  Even after all that digging, the question many of us keep coming back to is why?  

Why would the state superintendent disregard the recommendation of an evaluation committee which spent weeks reviewing four vendors before overwhelmingly recommending mClass?  Why would he make such a monumental change to how nearly a half million of our youngest readers are tested, knowing full well there would be a massive backlash?  What could truly be motivating Superintendent Mark Johnson?  

The truth is, the general public doesn’t know.  However, there could easily be information in the public record which could help clarify the matter for those who still don’t feel it has been satisfactorily resolved.

On Friday, July 12, DPI released records which shed some light on the debacle–in some cases to people who had been waiting for as many as 5 weeks.  Those records clearly showed that Mark Johnson’s claims that the evaluation committee had not recommended mClass were false

Some wondered why a department with a reputation for a lack of transparency would have released documents which seemed damaging to the superintendent.  There are two likely reasons. First of all, state law is clear that public records and public information are “the property of the people.”  Refusal to provide that property upon request constitutes a violation of the law. Secondly, enough of those people requested the records and persistently demanded compliance that it was impossible for DPI to ignore them.

While DPI’s July 7 release did include information related to the work of the evaluation committee, the agency has yet to provide communication between Department of Public Instruction representatives and potential key players in the Istation saga which could very well help to answer the question “Why?” 

That communication is the property of the people, and the law is clear that the people must be given access to it if they so desire.  

This morning I filed the following request for information which I hope will shed additional light on Superintendent Johnson’s unexpected decision:
Dear Mr. Wilson,

Under North Carolina Public Records Law, G.S. §132-1, I am requesting an opportunity to inspect or obtain copies of all communication including, but not limited to, emails and text messages from December 6, 2017, to the present date that meet the following criteria:

Communication between any employee of the Department of Public Instruction–including, but not limited to, Superintendent Mark Johnson (both email addresses mark.johnson@dpi.nc.gov and mrj@dpi.nc.gov), Chloe Gossage, and Ericka Berry–and the following:

  • Any and all employees or representatives of Imagination Station, also known as Istation
  • Any and all employees or representatives of Shanahan Law Group
  • Doug Miskew, lobbyist with Public Sector Group 
  • North Carolina Senator Phil Berger

As you know, the law requires that you respond to and fulfill this request “as promptly as possible.”  If you expect a significant delay in responding to and fulfilling this request, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.

If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.

Thanks in advance for your attention to this matter.


Justin Parmenter
Charlotte, NC

I filed the request through DPI’s Public Records Request Form:


I then followed up with a separate email including the text of the request to DPI Communications Director Graham Wilson, who is ultimately responsible for managing information requests.  You can reach Mr. Wilson at graham.wilson@dpi.nc.gov.  

Although state law unambiguously mandates that state agencies must comply with information requests, the time frame for compliance is somewhat vague  The law simply states examination of records must be permitted “as promptly as possible.”

State employees have a lot on their plates, so I created this clock to help remind me to check in with DPI on the status of my request every couple of weeks or so.  You can create one here.

Mark Johnson seems eager to put the summer Istation fiasco behind him and move on with business as usual.  For nearly half a million K-3 children and thousands of teachers it will be anything but. They will be forced to use a computer-based tool that none of them asked for and an evaluation committee didn’t want.  

We deserve to know why.

NC Superintendent cites leaked text message criticizing his failed attempt to influence assessment outcome as reason for cancelling contract process

On Friday, NC Superintendent Mark Johnson responded to Amplify’s protest of his decision to award North Carolina’s multimillion dollar contract for a K-3 reading assessment to Istation the way many expected he would:  by defending the decision and standing by Istation.

Johnson’s explanation of the decision included interesting new details about why he chose to disregard the recommendation of his evaluation committee that North Carolina continue to use Amplify’s mClass tool and then cancel the initial Request for Proposal (RFP).

The superintendent cited language in a non-disclosure agreement signed by members of the RFP evaluation committee which states that “If it is discovered that there has been a breach of confidentiality by a member of this Committee . . . [t]he solicitation may be cancelled . . . .”  

He then provided a text message from “an anonymous whistleblower” which he said constituted a breach of that agreement and necessitated cancelling the procurement process.

It’s important to understand the background and context of this message.  

On January 8, 2019, the same day the text message was sent, Superintendent Johnson called a meeting of the RFP evaluation committee.  He had spent a month digesting a clear recommendation made by the team on December 4 that North Carolina go with Amplify.

According to the meeting notes, Mark Johnson began the meeting by thanking those present for their input on the K-3 screener selection.  He gave a speech about the importance of freeing up more time for teachers to teach and the need to provide them with the right tools. Johnson then asked the 10 voting members present to vote for the second time–they had already recommended Amplify as finalist in their November consensus meeting–and stepped out of the room “to maintain integrity of the process.”

After the superintendent exited the room, team members wrote their choices on sticky notes, and the project manager tallied the results.  Amplify again easily came out on top, with six people recommending negotiations proceed with Amplify only, three with Istation only, and one voting that negotiations continue with both companies.  Pam Shue was tasked with informing Johnson of the committee’s recommendation the next day.


Here’s where the text message comes in.  Later the same day, this exchange occurred, apparently based on information provided by a member of the evaluation committee who was present at the meeting with Mark Johnson:

Well, just got off another call with XXX 1 hour 45 minutes all about RFP.  What a mess!

Geez!  What is going on?

MJ came into their voting meeting today to basically (without coming directly out and specifying) tell them how to vote!  However the vote did not go his way so it will be interesting to see how he gets his way on this.

OMG!  I know they were shocked!

Yep, she said they walked out of the building and several people said what just happened?

Someone, XXX should have recorded it on her phone!

She thought about it, but her phone was lying on the table in front of everyone

Oh yeah, that would have been tough…who else was in the room?  Have they named a replacement for XXX?

XXX She and XXX and XXX and XXX and XXX and XXX and XXX voted for children.  XXX and XXX and one of Mark’s staff voted for helping teachers. She said he talked about helping teachers and never once mentioned children and saving the teachers time.  

The sad thing is, he may win his next race because he will talk about how he helped teachers!

Well that’s why he’s pushing this.  Children can’t VOTE so we appease lazy ass teachers.


While holding up this leaked text message as one reason for cancelling the procurement process, Johnson fails to acknowledge the charges it levels against him.  Individuals present in that January 8 meeting clearly felt that his intent was to convince them to change their unambiguous Amplify recommendation to a different vendor.  They also speculated that, when he failed to persuade them, he would try to find another avenue to get his way.

Two months later Johnson had his General Counsel Jonathan Sink inform the team that the RFP process would be cancelled due to an unspecified confidentiality breach (which it now appears was this text message) and the team’s failure to achieve unanimous consensus.

Now that its protest has officially been denied, Amplify will likely ask the Department of Information Technology to review the procurement in hopes that it will intervene.

NC Treasurer Dale Folwell has unexpected encounter with educators harmed by his health plan changes

photo credit Michael Landers

This week State Treasurer Dale Folwell had an unexpected encounter with two of the many North Carolina educators facing catastrophic increases in medical expenses as a result of changes he is making to the State Health Plan.  

It did not go very well.

Folwell claims his new Clear Pricing Project is necessary because confidential costs in medical care currently have the State Health Plan on a path toward insolvency.  Folwell’s plan establishes a new North Carolina State Health Plan Network which will set its “own rates instead of paying providers rates that are set under confidential contracts.”  Doctors and hospitals that choose not to participate in the Clear Pricing Project will be considered out of network and can charge patients whatever they want.

Here’s the problem:  Very few hospitals and doctors are interested in taking Folwell’s offer.  In fact, when his July 1 registration deadline passed, only three out of the roughly one hundred hospitals in the state had signed on.  

If nothing changes significantly in the standoff, many of North Carolina’s more than 700,000 state employees and retirees may soon find their current providers out of network and be saddled with medical bills they can’t pay.

Susan Ringo is a middle school librarian in Wilkesboro. She was recently diagnosed with a congenital health issue requiring regular treatment at a hospital which has not signed on to the Clear Pricing Plan.  She calls this a “truly terrifying situation.” Cabarrus County English teacher Michael Landers is diabetic and relies on Atrium Health–also not currently taking Folwell’s deal–to meet his health care needs.  Landers estimates his medical costs will double and that he will be unable to afford treatment on his teacher’s salary.

On Wednesday, Folwell came face to face with both of these educators on the set of the NC Public School Forum’s weekly television show Education Matters.  The treasurer had accepted an invitation to appear on the show and talk about the Clear Pricing Plan.  However, he was apparently unaware that he would have to be in the same room with people who are about to see their lives turned upside down by his changes to the health plan.  

Folwell appeared very uncomfortable with the feeling of accountability.

According to Michael Landers, Folwell was visibly agitated upon learning that the other participants in the show were educators.  When he was introduced to Landers and Ringo, Folwell asked how long they had been working in schools. Landers explained he’d been teaching 21 years, and the treasurer retorted, “How come you weren’t worried about this 20 years ago?”  Landers gave Folwell some background on his Type 1 diabetes, his insulin dependency, and fears over the pending increase in the cost of his medical care. Rather than reacting to the concerns with empathy, Folwell suggested Landers shop around and referred to the hospitals as “cartels,” a contemptuous term he has also used in public.  It’s an ominous sign of the mindset our state treasurer brings to sensitive negotiations as the well being of hundreds of thousands of state employees and their families hangs in the balance.

Mr. Folwell would do well to engage in some soul searching about the root cause of his discomfort on the set of Education Matters.  I would imagine it’s a lot easier to live with the negative impact of your actions when those most affected are largely anonymous to you.

But the state employees who are facing serious harm because of Folwell’s Clear Pricing Project are more than just numbers on a spreadsheet.  They are Susan Ringo, and Michael Landers, and thousands of others who have dedicated their lives to serving our state. They deserve a lot better than to be unwilling victims of Dale Folwell’s dangerous game of chicken.

You can catch this week’s episode of Education Matters in the following ways:

NC state senators call on Senator Berger to delay Istation implementation and review contract process

Thirteen North Carolina state senators are calling on Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger to investigate the process Superintendent Mark Johnson followed in unilaterally awarding the multi-million dollar contract for a K-3 reading assessment to Istation.

In a letter sent to Senator Berger today, the lawmakers request that Berger “establish a Select Senate Committee to review the procurement process for the contract.” The senators are further asking that Berger delay implementation of the new K-3 reading assessment for a year.

As justification for the request, the senators point to Johnson’s dismissal of the findings of an evaluation committee which recommended that the state continue using the mClass tool which has been in use since 2013.

The letter asks that Berger take these steps to “restore some of the confidence lost by superintendents, teachers, and parents regarding the procurement process.”

Amendment which would allow school districts to opt out of Istation switch passes NC House, now on to Senate

An amendment by Representative Graig Meyer to Read to Achieve legislation sponsored by Senator Phil Berger passed the House by a vote of 62-51 tonight and the amended bill is on its way back to the Senate.

As amended, the legislation would give local boards of education the flexibility to “select different assessments” to meet the universal screener requirement of Read to Achieve.


This change would give school districts the option to continue using the mClass reading assessment they’ve been using since Read to Achieve was implemented in 2013 instead of switching to the computer-based Istation tool which was unilaterally adopted by State Superintendent Mark Johnson against the recommendations of a team of educators.

The legislation now heads to the Senate where lawmakers will vote to either concur or not concur with SB 438 as amended.

**Updated 7/23: It appears that any school districts that opt to use assessments other than the one selected by the Department of Public Instruction would most likely be responsible for 100% of the cost of the alternate assessment. This raises equity concerns that deserve some healthy public debate.

Action needed: NC legislator to offer amendment which would arm teachers

On Monday, July 22, Cabarrus County Representative Larry Pittman will reportedly once again introduce legislation to arm teachers.  

According to NC gun rights organization Grassroots North Carolina, Pittman will offer his School Defense Act as an amendment to a Senate School Safety Omnibus bill which will be voted on in the House.

Pittman’s last effort to put guns in the hands of teachers came in the wake of the 2018 Parkland massacre, where 17 lost their lives and an armed security officer declined to enter the school building and engage the shooter.  

At the time, Pittman urged fellow lawmakers to support his legislation, saying 

We need to allow teachers, other school personnel and other citizens, who are willing, to be screened and to receive tactical training and bring their weapons to school, in cooperation with local law enforcement who would need to be informed as to who is doing this. We should give them a fighting chance. Otherwise, when they die, and children die whom they could have defended, their blood will be on our hands. I cannot accept that. I hope you will think this through and find that you cannot accept it, either.

Pittman is totally out of touch on this issue, just as he was last spring when he fought against a bill which prohibited corporal punishment in public schools.

What makes the amazing things going on in North Carolina’s public schools possible is the positive culture that professional educators work so hard to establish.  The relationships we build with our students help them see our classrooms as a safe harbor, a place where they will be respected and given the support they need to succeed.   We can’t keep that all-important culture intact while militarizing our classrooms.  It’s as simple as that.

Adding more guns to our buildings is not going to solve school shootings–it will only make things worse.  Statistically speaking, our schools are still very safe places to be. And a recent national survey of educators found that more than 95% did not believe that teachers should carry a gun in the classroom.  The notion of a pistol-packing badass teacher taking out a villain in a blaze of gunfire is nothing more than the action movie fantasy of an out-of-touch, NRA-purchased politician.  

Grassroots North Carolina, of course, disagrees. They cite research by gun rights advocate John Lott in claiming “schools that allow educators and administrators to be armed are much (much) safer than their gun-free counterparts.”

Side note: GRNC refers to Lott as a “respected researcher.” He’s not:

A little over a decade ago, he was disgraced and his career was in tatters. Not only was Lott’s assertion that more guns leads to more safety formally repudiated by a National Research Council panel, but he had also been caught pushing studies with severe statistical errors on numerous occasions. An investigation uncovered that he had almost certainly fabricated an entire survey on defensive gun use. And a blogger revealed that Mary Rosh, an online commentator claiming to be a former student of Lott’s who would frequently post about how amazing he was, was in fact John Lott himself. He was all but excommunicated from academia.

Grassroots North Carolina is mobilizing its members to contact legislators today and urge them to support Pittman’s amendment. They have conveniently provided email addresses for all House Republicans, which I am including below. For some odd reason, they declined to include House Democrat contact information, but you can find all House members’ individual contact information here.

Please take the time to reach out today and express your opinion on the matter, and encourage others to do the same.

*NC House Republicans Copy/Paste Email List(s):
Jay.Adams@ncleg.net; Dean.Arp@ncleg.net; Lisa.Barnes@ncleg.net; John.Bell@ncleg.net; Hugh.Blackwell@ncleg.net; Jamie.Boles@ncleg.net; William.Brisson@ncleg.net; Mark.Brody@ncleg.net; Dana.Bumgardner@ncleg.net; Jerry.Carter@ncleg.net; George.Cleveland@ncleg.net; Debra.Conrad@ncleg.net; Kevin.Corbin@ncleg.net; Ted.Davis@ncleg.net; Jimmy.Dixon@ncleg.net; Josh.Dobson@ncleg.net; Jeffrey.Elmore@ncleg.net; John.Faircloth@ncleg.net; John.Fraley@ncleg.net; Edward.Goodwin@ncleg.net; Holly.Grange@ncleg.net; Destin.Hall@ncleg.net; Kyle.Hall@ncleg.net; 

Bobby.Hanig@ncleg.net; Jon.Hardister@ncleg.net; Kelly.Hastings@ncleg.net; Cody.Henson@ncleg.net; Craig.Horn@ncleg.net; Julia.Howard@ncleg.net; Chris.Humphrey@ncleg.net; Pat.Hurley@ncleg.net; Frank.Iler@ncleg.net; Steve.Jarvis@ncleg.net; LindaP.Johnson@ncleg.net; Brenden.Jones@ncleg.net; Donny.Lambeth@ncleg.net; David.Lewis@ncleg.net; Pat.McElraft@ncleg.net; Chuck.McGrady@ncleg.net; Allen.McNeill@ncleg.net; Tim.Moore@ncleg.net; Gregory.Murphy@ncleg.net; Larry.Potts@ncleg.net; Michele.Presnell@ncleg.net; 

Dennis.Riddell@ncleg.net; David.Rogers@ncleg.net; Stephen.Ross@ncleg.net; Jason.Saine@ncleg.net; Wayne.Sasser@ncleg.net; John.Sauls@ncleg.net; Mitchell.Setzer@ncleg.net; Phil.Shepard@ncleg.net; Carson.Smith@ncleg.net; Sarah.Stevens@ncleg.net; Larry.Strickland@ncleg.net; John.Szoka@ncleg.net; John.Torbett@ncleg.net; Harry.Warren@ncleg.net; Donna.White@ncleg.net; Larry.Yarborough@ncleg.net; Lee.Zachary@ncleg.net; Jeffrey.McNeely@ncleg.net

* Limitations of certain email programs and spam filters may require you to send this message to smaller lists. If that is necessary, the above email list is conveniently split into three parts to allow you to easily send this message three times—once to each list.

About Istation’s threats of legal action against NC educators

I haven’t said much in public about multi-million dollar ed-tech corporation Istation’s threats of legal action against me and two other North Carolina educators up to this point.  But since the media has now published those threats I thought they deserved a response.

About a month ago it was brought to my attention that a significant change in the way we evaluate our children’s reading ability in North Carolina was flying very much under the radar.  I began to research the matter and was dismayed by what I learned.  

I learned that there were some crucial differences between the mClass assessment tool and the Istation assessment tool which had resulted in an evaluation committee overwhelmingly recommending that North Carolina’s schools continue using mClass.

I learned that our state superintendent had disregarded that committee’s input and awarded the contract to Istation anyway.

I learned that the superintendent and his representatives had claimed repeatedly that the committee had not recommended mClass.

I learned that documentation existed that would show those claims to be false.

I learned that the level of fear within the Department of Public Instruction is so high that it’s very difficult to get current–and even, in some cases, former–employees to talk about what goes on there.  But it’s not impossible.

I believe that the people of North Carolina deserve government that is truthful and transparent.  I believe the policies of our education system should be informed by the consensus of the people who are most knowledgeable about how they will affect our children.  I believe that those children deserve best practices in their classrooms that will lead to the brightest future they can have.

With those goals in mind, I have put countless hours into researching this matter over the last month.  I have spoken with dozens of people who are deeply invested in education and government in North Carolina and learned much about everything from dyslexia to procurement rules.  

Along the way I have passed along a lot of information that I felt would be helpful to the public in understanding an issue that deeply impacts our children and therefore the future of all of our communities in North Carolina.  Not one time have I stated anything that I did not believe to be absolutely true. And indeed, when the Department of Public Instruction finally gave in to massive pressure to comply with lawful public records requests and released a trove of records on July 12, those documents substantiated all the claims that had been made about the evaluation committee’s recommendations and revealed even more troubling details about the contract process.

On Monday, Istation’s North Carolina attorneys sent me the following cease and desist letter accusing me of making “demonstrably false, misleading, and defamatory public statements about Istation” based on what they refer to as “unverifiable speculation and unsubstantiated statements.”  They informed me that Istation is considering its legal options against me at this time. It’s a curious PR strategy for a company that you’d think would be focused on winning over North Carolina teachers right now.


It’s unfortunate to see attempts like this to silence educators who simply want the truth and what’s best for our children.  

Thank you to everyone who has reached out over the past few days in support.  My attorney assures me that the truth is an absolute defense against charges of defamation.  With that in mind, no matter what course of action Istation chooses, I know we are in great shape.  

What DPI’s newly released documents reveal—and what they don’t reveal—about Superintendent Mark Johnson’s unilateral Istation contract award

Last week the NC Department of Public Instruction finally released information related to the procurement process which ended with Superintendent Mark Johnson unilaterally awarding a 3 year, multimillion dollar contract for North Carolina’s K-3 diagnostic reading assessment to Istation.

Both Johnson and DPI Communications Director Graham Wilson had previously claimed that the evaluation committee assembled in the fall of 2018 to inform the decision had failed to come to a consensus or make a recommendation.  The records provided by DPI show those claims are absolutely false.

The documents also reveal some important details about the path Johnson took as he disregarded the input of the team of evaluators.  However, the release omits records which will be crucial in substantiating DPI’s version of events.

Here’s what we know based on the records DPI released:

On October 5, 2018, the Request for Proposal (RFP) evaluation team first met under the direction of co-business managers Pam Shue and Amy Jablonski to discuss background for the project, evaluation ground rules, and how the process would work.  The team included both voting members and non-voting members and was made up of DPI employees and a broad collection of subject matter experts.  

Notice the importance of selecting an effective dyslexia screener in the initial project scope as presented to the RFP evaluation committee.  Some of the strongest outcry that has followed Johnson’s selection of Istation has been about the tool’s inability to flag children who are at risk for dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities.  DPI representatives have responded by explaining that dyslexia screening is outside the purview of Read to Achieve and is not the state’s responsibility, as DPI Director of K-3 Literacy Tara Galloway told the State Board of Education last week.


Individual team members were given until mid-November to evaluate the four vendors (Amplify, Istation, NWEA, and Curriculum Associates), at which time they were expected to be prepared to meet, discuss their findings, and come to a consensus ranking which would later be presented to Superintendent Johnson.

The consensus meeting took place on November 19 and 20, 2018.  Notes from the records release indicate that participants were reminded at the outset of the meeting that their goal was to arrive at a consensus on which product should be selected, and that “consensus means general agreement and not unanimity.”


The team discussed their findings in painstaking detail before ranking the products.  They agreed unanimously that Amplify was the best choice. Istation came in second.


On December 4, 2018, Amy Jablonski, Pam Shue, DPI Procurement Officer Tymica Dunn, and Project Manager Srirekha Viswanathan met with Superintendent Mark Johnson to present the committee’s findings in a PowerPoint which is included in the released DPI records.  They told Johnson that the team had selected Amplify’s mClass tool as its top choice to be used as the K-3 reading diagnostic assessment in all of North Carolina’s schools.

The next records DPI provided are from a meeting on January 8, 2019, between Superintendent Mark Johnson and the members of the evaluation team who worked for DPI.  The purpose of the meeting reads “consensus meeting to recommend finalist for negotiations,” which is odd since the team had already presented its unambiguous recommendation to Johnson the month before.


According to the notes, Mark Johnson began the meeting by thanking those present for their input on the K-3 screener selection.  He gave a speech about the importance of freeing up more time for teachers to teach and the need to provide them with the right tools.  As this was his first reaction to the team recommending that schools continue using the Amplify tool, Johnson’s comments could be interpreted as an attempt to influence the team toward changing their recommendation to Istation (a computer-based tool which Istation advertises as requiring minimal class time).  Johnson then asked the 10 voting members present to vote for the second time and stepped out of the room “to maintain integrity of the process.”

After the superintendent exited the room, team members wrote their choices on sticky notes, and the project manager tallied the results.  Amplify again easily came out on top, with six people recommending negotiations proceed with Amplify only, three with Istation only, and one voting that negotiations continue with both companies.  Pam Shue was tasked with informing Johnson of the committee’s recommendation the next day.

On March 8, 2019, another meeting was held to discuss the procurement.  This time only 8 of the 10 DPI voting members who had been at the previous meeting were present.  Superintendent Johnson was not in attendance, but new General Counsel Jonathan Sink was.  

Sink informed those present that the procurement process was being cancelled.  According to the notes, he gave two reasons for the cancellation. The first reason was that a voting member of the evaluation committee had breached confidentiality on the procurement process.  The second reason provided was that there had been no unanimous consensus in selecting a vendor for the K-3 reading assessment.


There are a couple of important things to note here.  First of all, Sink gave no additional detail on the alleged confidentiality breach at the meeting, and the records DPI released include no information about exactly what the breach was or the identity of the person responsible.  

Given DPI’s pattern of dishonesty on the procurement and Mark Johnson’s apparent desire to award the contract to Istation, it’s fair to wonder whether a breach really occurred.  If it did, records detailing the breach should have been provided to the public as information relevant to the procurement process. Nothing in North Carolina public records law prevents DPI from releasing that information and corroborating the claim.

Secondly, remember that the evaluation team had been informed from the beginning of the RFP process that “consensus means general agreement and not unanimity,” so the lack of unanimous agreement does not seem to be a valid reason for cancelling the procurement.  Indeed, it’s hard to imagine procurements in general being successful if the process required those involved to unanimously agree.

After the March 8 meeting, the RFP process was cancelled and restarted with a smaller evaluation committee which had very little expertise in literacy or teaching.  The new committee selected Istation as the vendor, and Mark Johnson announced the contract award to the public on June 7.

Mark Johnson appears to believe that the legislation which called for the procurement gave him sole decision-making authority on the K-3 reading assessment and, as such, that he could simply disregard all the work done by the evaluation team.  The exact wording of the bill in question reads  “…the Evaluation Panel, with the approval of the State Superintendent, shall select one vendor to provide the assessment instrument…”  

Ultimately, it may be up to a judge to determine whether Johnson had that authority.

Amplify has filed a protest with the Department of Public Instruction under North Carolina Administrative Code, and representatives of Amplify and DPI will be meeting for the first time to discuss the protest on Thursday, July 18.  

Amplify is protesting under North Carolina General Statute 150B, which mandates that government contract awards must be reversed in a number of circumstances, including if a state agency which awarded a contract “acted arbitrarily or capriciously.”  Depending on the outcome of this meeting, the procurement may then be reviewed by the Department of Information Technology and the decision is subject to appeal in superior court.

DPI releases documents showing NC Superintendent Mark Johnson lied about K-3 screener procurement

Late Friday afternoon the Department of Public Instruction finally responded to Lord knows how many requests by the public seeking records about the mClass/Istation procurement process.

The documents DPI made available confirm claims made by former DPI Division Director of Integrated Academic and Behavior Services Amy Jablonski that the initial Request for Proposal (RFP) evaluation committee recommended that DPI adopt mClass as the tool to evaluate K-3 reading achievement as required under Read to Achieve.

They also show that both NC Superintendent Mark Johnson and his staff were lying when they said the team had not recommended mClass.

When the controversy first broke over Superintendent Mark Johnson unilaterally selecting Istation, DPI spokeswoman Jacqueline Wyatt denied to the Raleigh News & Observer that the RFP committee had reached a consensus and recommended mClass. In an email to representatives of the North Carolina School Superintendents Association, Johnson repeated the claim, saying “No consensus was reached by the RFP evaluation committee, so there was no recommendation.”

The documents released today after weeks of pressure by the public clearly show that the evaluation committee recommended Amplify as its number 1 choice in nearly every category and easily first overall.

You can see the relevant portion of the released documents below. A complete upload of what DPI released (including some caveats by Mark Johnson) is posted here.


Court documents allege CEO sought to influence research on Istation

In a lawsuit filed against Istation in 2010, company co-founder and former CEO George Grayson alleged that current CEO Richard Collins had proposed a plan to give a “gift” of $150,000 to his alma mater Southern Methodist University in return for a study “that would be favorable to the company.”

Collins and Grayson founded Istation in Dallas in 1998.  According to court documents, Grayson was Istation’s sole shareholder until 2006 and served as the company’s CEO from its founding until 2007, when he was ousted by Collins following a recapitalization.

In 2010, Grayson filed suit against Istation and Collins for breach of fiduciary duty.  In that complaint, Grayson alleged that, in 2008, Collins had announced his plan to the company’s board to pay for research showing Istation in a positive light:

The allegations add an interesting wrinkle in North Carolina, where the public continues to seek clarity on how Istation was able to win a multimillion dollar K-3 reading screener contract despite the reported recommendation of a broad evaluation team that the contract be awarded to Amplify for its mClass product.  

One criticism of Istation in comparison to mClass has been the relative scarcity of independent research on the tool’s efficacy.  When he announced his decision to give Istation the contract, State Superintendent Mark Johnson referred to the company’s “proven results of helping students grow.”  Interested members of the public reached out to Istation to find out more about those proven results.

Istation obliged by providing links to just a handful of studies, three of which were written by a Dallas professor who it turns out actually works for Istation:

In addition to providing some shaky research, Istation is continuing its PR offensive.  Today company president Ossa Fisher spammed state legislators with quotes by anonymous North Carolina public school teachers who, of course, just love the new product.   


Fisher claims Istation was “designed to make life easier for educators.” Let’s be clear.  Istation was designed to make money. Mr. Grayson’s allegations may shed some light on just how far Istation’s leadership is willing to go to turn that profit.

(h/t Chelsea Bartel for unearthing the court documents)