ETS President Cole Announces Retirement

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The president of the Educational Testing Service has announced that she will leave her post by the end of the year.

Nancy S. Cole confirmed Jan. 7 that she will retire once her successor is hired to lead the giant nonprofit testing agency that runs the SAT college-admissions tests, the Advanced Placement tests, teacher-screening exams, and several graduate-admissions tests.

"It's a great time to retire," said Ms. Cole, 57, who has held the job since 1994 and was the executive vice president of the ETS for five years before that. "My husband and I want to relocate when we've got years left to enjoy an active life. I committed to it a long time ago."

Righting the Organization

While the testing service has struggled in recent years as it has expanded computer-based testing, its trustees say Ms. Cole's decision was her own. In fact, Ms. Cole wanted to retire one year ago.

"We asked her to stay long enough to develop the strategic plan and to begin the implementation of it," said A. William Wiggenhorn, the chairman of the ETS board of trustees and the president of Motorola University, the training arm of the Schaumburg, Ill., electronics manufacturer.

That plan calls on the organization to expand its products beyond its historic emphasis on undergraduate- and graduate- admissions tests, such as the SAT, the Graduate Management Admission Test, and the Graduate Record Examination. It emphasizes the creation of testing programs that will certify adults' career skills and expansion into international markets, Mr. Wiggenhorn said. The ETS will also continue the transition to computer-based testing.

The testing service took the first steps toward each of those goals during Ms. Cole's tenure, and it has led to some tumult in the traditionally quiet, academic culture on its campus just outside Princeton, N.J.

Computer-based testing has cost more than projected, creating annual budget deficits for most of the past decade. The red ink forced the ETS into laying off employees and paring benefits. ("Testing ETS," Dec. 1, 1999.)

Many of those problems have been fixed, according to Mr. Wiggenhorn and another trustee.

The budget will be balanced in the current fiscal year, staff morale has improved, and early flaws in computer-based testing have been fixed, they said.

"It's a good time for her to leave," said John F. Jennings a trustee and the director of the Center for National Education Policy, a Washington- based think tank. "If she had left last year, she would have left in a furor over the deficit, the difficulties of computer-based testing, and a cutback in [employee] benefits. Now, she's helped right the organization."

Still, the testing service faces several challenges ahead, Mr. Jennings said. Public universities in California, Florida, and Texas are starting to downplay or even eliminate SAT scores in their admission decisions, easing demand for the ETS' biggest product.

Search Begun

The ETS board has formed a search committee that has already begun working. Mr. Wiggenhorn said he expects Ms. Cole's replacement to assume leadership this summer. "We're looking for a candidate that has a passion for the global market," he said.

Ms. Cole, meanwhile, said she was not exactly certain what future role she would play in education. As a former college professor, university dean, and psychometrician, she said, she knows that various sectors of education have separate agendas and are often at odds with each other.

"The different portions don't talk easily to each other," she said. "I want to explore ways I could facilitate some of those interactions. I don't know exactly what I'm going to do."

Vol. 19, Issue 19, Page 10

Published in Print: January 19, 2000, as ETS President Cole Announces Retirement
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