New documents show DPI dismissed dyslexia screening deficiency in selecting Istation tool

Newly released documents obtained through a public records request with the NC Department of Information Technology reveal that the Department of Public Instruction was fully aware of Istation’s dyslexia screening shortcomings–and chose to purchase the tool anyway.

When the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction originally issued its Request for Proposal (RFP) for a K-3 literacy assessment tool, one requirement was that vendors explain how their product would identify students at risk for dyslexia.  

The image you see below is from the RFP that DPI released in the fall of 2018.  Business Specification #8 requires vendors to provide a description of how measures “adequately and accurately identify indicators of risk for dyslexia in grades K-3.” 

The RFP includes a link to legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2017 which mandates that students with specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia “receive the necessary and appropriate screenings” and tasking local boards of education with reviewing “diagnostic tools and screening instruments used for dyslexia…to ensure that they are age-appropriate and effective.”   

Clearly it was a priority in the fall of 2018 that the Department of Public Instruction procure a reading assessment tool that can be used to identify students who are at risk for dyslexia.  That was the understanding of the two robust evaluation committees that thoroughly reviewed the available vendors before recommending to Superintendent Mark Johnson in December of 2018 that mClass was the best choice for North Carolina’s children. It’s also an approach which is consistent with this Dyslexia Topic Brief produced by DPI’s Exceptional Children division in 2015, which points out that “Assessments that serve as screening tools can provide early warning indicators of students who are at risk of reading failure.”

After the RFP evaluation committees both recommended mClass, the RFP process was cancelled.  DPI has yet to explain what led to the cancellation, although last month a spokeswoman for the department referred in a cryptic statement to “actions that jeopardized the legality of the procurement.”  

Whatever the true cause for the RFP cancellation, the procurement process was restarted in the spring with a new evaluation team, and Requests to Negotiate were sent to two vendors:  Amplify (the company which produces mClass) and Istation. DPI’s Contract Award Recommendation document lays out the following timeline for what occurred:

According to DPI’s letter, the Evaluation Committee that chose to award the contract to Istation consisted of the following individuals:

Note that it’s a much narrower team than the roughly 20-25 knowledgeable statewide education leaders–including specialists in general education, special education, and English language learner services, school psychologists, representatives of Institutions for Higher Education, and dyslexia experts–who made up the two committees that originally evaluated the available screeners before recommending mClass to Mark Johnson.  You know, right before the RFP was cancelled.

The team that chose Istation specifically referred to the program’s lack of a separate dyslexia component as a weakness of the program (while also holding up Amplify’s dyslexia component as a strength of mClass):

In explaining the final choice, Istation’s deficiencies with regard to screening for dyslexia were noted by the Evaluation Committee again–and then dismissed as being outside the scope of the procurement.  

The law referenced here by DPI (GS 115C-83.1) is the primary goal of the Read to Achieve program:

The goal of the State is to ensure that every student read at or above grade level by the end of third grade and continue to progress in reading proficiency so that he or she can read, comprehend, integrate, and apply complex texts needed for secondary education and career success.

I’d argue that effective dyslexia screening is part of ensuring “that every student read at or above grade level by the end of third grade,” and that it should have been considered a “primary obligation of this procurement.”

For a young child, failing to have a learning disability detected early on can completely alter his or her life trajectory.  

Our students deserve better than this.

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