New push to block controversial NC reading program for kids

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- On Wednesday night in south Raleigh, 7-year-old Elijah Miller and his mom, Suzanne, were reading "Steam Train, Dream Train" much like Elijah did with his teacher last year in first grade.

Elijah would read aloud, one-on-one with his teacher. This is the Mclass model -- assessing students' reading by listening.

"Listening for their pronunciation, how they break the words apart into the sounds of reading," Suzanne Miller said.

ABC11 first met the Millers last week. Suzanne is leading a grassroots coalition of parents and education advocates fighting state Superintendent Mark Johnson's decision to ditch Mclass in favor of Istation, a program where children use tablets or computers for interactive games that assess their reading progression.

Johnson's decision to switch came despite a committee, which Johnson formed, that recommended the state stay with Mclass.

"That's the million dollar question right now," Miller said as to why she thinks Johnson would go against the committee's recommendation. "Or it's the $8.3 million question as the case may be."

She's talking about the $8.3 million contract awarded to Istation to take over reading assessments.

In his only public statement about the controversy, Johnson said the rankings that put Mclass above Istation are based on "misstatements of fact."

Meantime on Jones Street -- an amendment to allow school districts to keep their own program passed in the House, but failed Wednesday in the Senate.

Soon after, 13 senators fired off a letter to Senate Leader Phil Berger, calling for an investigation into the process that Johnson followed in awarding the contract.

"(Johnson) keeps saying there's more information in the documents. Well if that's the case, release them," Miller said. "And because he's not released it, it makes us wonder and makes is try to figure out what he's hiding."

Amplify, the company that owns Mclass, has filed a formal protest of the contract. And Johnson said he cannot disclose exactly why he chose Istation until that protest is resolved.

There is no word yet from Senator Berger's office on whether he'll launch an investigation into the process Johnson followed.
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