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ETS Buys Into Formative-Assessment Market

By Lynn Olson — March 07, 2006 3 min read
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The Educational Testing Service last week acquired the assets of a Portland, Ore.-based company that specializes in helping teachers use classroom assessments to improve daily instruction.

By acquiring the assets of the for-profit Assessment Training Institute, the nonprofit testing giant will be able to offer a full suite of assessment services—ranging from large-scale state tests to the ongoing assessments that teachers use for instruction and grading on a weekly, daily, and minute-by-minute basis.

“This signals that ETS is serious about supporting teachers in the classroom,” said Dylan Wiliam, who directs the Learning and Teaching Research Center at the Princeton, N.J.-based ETS. “The big idea, I think, is that at every stage of the system, at every level of the system, there’s a way of checking that learning is happening.”

The goal is to integrate assessment into daily instruction to support, rather than just measure, student learning.

Rapid Inroads

The nonprofit ETS, best known for producing the SAT and other admissions exams for higher education, is a relative newcomer to the K-12 assessment market.

It has been making rapid inroads, though, including winning state testing contracts in California, Texas, and Virginia. According to unaudited estimates, $148 million of ETS’s $800 million in consolidated revenues in 2005 came from its elementary and secondary education division.

Last year, the organization launched an online “item bank” of test questions and an instructional data-management system that lets educators create assessments aligned with district curricula and state standards. (“ETS to Enter Formative-Assessment Market at K-12 Level,” March 2, 2005.)

Tim Wiley, a senior analyst with Eduventures, a Boston-based market-research firm, said the new acquisition fits into a broader trend among test-makers toward linking large-scale tests with professional development for teachers and more frequent, “formative” assessments that can be used to support instruction throughout the year.

“Assessment providers are looking to get more value out of the vast amounts of assessment data that they have at their fingertips now,” Mr. Wiley said. “So it’s very comparable to other things we’ve been hearing.”

Eduventures has predicted that, by this year, what it calls the “formative-assessment market” would generate $323 million in annual revenues for vendors.

The Assessment Training Institute was founded in 1992 by Richard J. Stiggins, an educational measurement expert who has directed test-development and performance-assessment programs for schools and districts. That included a stint as the director of test development for the American College Testing program, which changed its name to ACT Inc. in 1996. He also is the author of several books on classroom assessment.

Involving Students

The Assessment Training Institute works with teachers and principals to develop day-to-day classroom assessments and to involve students in the assessment process, so that they can better monitor and take responsibility for their own learning. The eight-person company had revenues of about $2.5 million last year.

Neither the ETS nor the training institute would disclose the cost of the acquisition.

“We’ve had very exciting success in getting teachers the assessment training they need,” Mr. Stiggins said. “The partnership with ETS gives us an opportunity to merge our expertise in the classroom level of assessment with their wonderful experience in large-scale assessment. We can create professional-learning experiences that span the whole range of assessment uses, and that’s very exciting.”

The company, which will be renamed the ETS National Assessment Training Institute, also hopes to use the arrangement to reach out to new audiences, including policymakers and faculty members in higher education.

Mr. Stiggins will direct the new institute within the ETS, while he and his staff members continue to operate out of their Oregon base.

Mr. Wiliam, whose work has focused more on the continuous assessment techniques that teachers use to track learning, said that he will be working with Mr. Stiggins’ team “to plan a really integrated assessment system, so we can offer a complete suite of tools and solutions and professional-development activities that improve every part of assessment in schools: from the minute-by-minute up to the year-by-year stuff.”

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