RALEIGH — North Carolina government’s information technology chief has signed off on a new short-term contract for a vendor to carry out public school reading tests.

State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette agreed to the $929,000 contract between Istation and the Department of Public Instruction late last week, one day after he canceled a previous emergency contract that state schools Superintendent Mark Johnson entered with Istation in early January.

Boyette canceled the initial agreement because Johnson chose not to get permission from Boyette’s agency to enter the nearly three-month deal before signing the contract.

The new emergency contract is identical to the original emergency contract, Public Instruction spokesman Graham Wilson told The News & Observer of Raleigh.

The actions are part of a lengthy administrative challenge over how to test students under North Carolina’s Read to Achieve Law, which is designed to have children reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

Since 2013, teachers had been using a program from Amplify Education to evaluate the skills of students who read out loud.

But Johnson awarded in June a three-year, $8.3 million deal to Istation, which tests students on a computer program. Amplify protested Johnson’s decision, ultimately leading Boyette to block the three-year contract while the disagreement was reviewed.

The Department of Information Technology held a hearing earlier this month as part of that review but has not yet ruled.

Johnson, a Republican now running for lieutenant governor, wrote in a Jan. 14 memo that Boyette’s department was to blame for the emergency when it blocked the contract. Istation had offered to perform the test for free through the end of 2019, Johnson said.

In canceling the original emergency contract, Boyette wrote last week that DPI had enough time to contact his agency to obtain permission. But he also recommended Johnson initiate a new request for quotes to perform such testing services given their urgency.

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