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Wake Judge Sides With NC Superintendent In Clash Over Reading Program


A Wake County judge sided with state Superintendent Mark Johnson Monday in a legal battle over how to test North Carolina’s youngest readers.

The Superior Court judge issued an order that clears the way for public schools to use Istation, an online tool to test reading in kindergarten through third grade. That’s despite an ongoing legal challenge from Amplify, a company that provided teacher-administered testing for the previous six years.

The complex battle between vendors matters because the testing is a foundation of North Carolina's Read To Achieve program, which aims to ensure that all students can read on grade level when they leave third grade. While the goal is widely embraced, progress on state reading exams has been negligible since the bill passed in 2012.

The Department of Public Instruction, which awarded the assessment contract to Istation this year, is at odds with the state’s IT department, which has raised concerns about the process for awarding that contract. A hearing officer from the technology department recently ruled that the DPI selection process violated state law and jeopardized the integrity of the state's procurement process.

Before the school year began in August, Johnson overturned the recommendation of an evaluation panel that wanted to renew the Amplify contract, saying some members violated confidentiality and had conflicts of interest. He created a new panel that chose Istation.

On Monday the Wake judge ruled that DPI is likely to prevail and that students would be harmed if schools couldn’t use Istation, according to a DPI statement. The conflict is scheduled for a full hearing in January, about halfway through the school year.

Johnson called Monday's order “good news (that) will prevent the disruption of the work and progress North Carolina reading teachers have already made this school year.”

Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.