College & Workforce Readiness

New Vendor Gains Entry To College Board Line

By David J. Hoff — March 17, 2004 3 min read
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For college-bound students, the SAT given in the fall of 2005 will be unique for one reason: It will include a writing portion for the first time in its history.

For the testing industry, that exam will be distinct for a different reason: Those writing tests will be scored by an organization other than the Educational Testing Service.

While the Princeton, N.J., nonprofit company will carry out almost all the work on the college-entrance exam, another contractor will be responsible for a task in the SAT for the first time since the testing service came into being 56 years ago.

Pearson NCS won a subcontract to score the writing portion of the test as part of the test sponsor’s attempt to “improve the quality of service we provide,” said Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, the New York City-based nonprofit organization that owns and sponsors the SAT.

“We wanted to look at all the ways we do everything,” Mr. Caperton said of the College Board’s process for crafting the new SAT. “We had to take a look at the total way we manage it.”

The change, although slight in the overall context of the SAT, is part of an overhaul of the relationship between the test’s sponsor and its developer.

“It’s reflective of the environment in which we now operate, which is much more competitive,” said Kurt M. Landgraf, the president of the Educational Testing Service. “ETS is now in a position where it must be cost-competitive and productivity-competitive.”

Joined at Hip

Since Henry Chauncey, a College Board official, established the ETS in 1948, the two organizations have worked in tandem to produce the exam that was originally called the Scholastic Aptitude Test and now goes simply by initials. More than 2 million high school juniors and seniors take the SAT every year as part of the college-admissions process. It and the ACT are the two tests that colleges routinely require their applicants to take.

But the organizations’ relationship began to change in 1999, when Mr. Caperton took over as the president of the College Board, and then a year later, when Mr. Landgraf became the fifth president in ETS history.

Both leaders noted that they needed to alter the partnership. Mr. Caperton wanted to cut production costs to keep student fees under control, while Mr. Landgraf wanted to diversify the testing service’s revenues.

When Mr. Landgraf started, the SAT produced surplus revenue for the testing service, but the sum of the rest of its products cost more than they generated in income. The ETS also produces Advanced Placement tests and the PSAT for the College Board, as well as the Graduate Record Exams and the Praxis teacher-certification tests.

Now that the ETS has diversified by winning contracts to write K-12 tests and expand its work in professional-certification exams, the SAT produces 75 percent of the company’s surplus revenue, Mr. Landgraf said.

For the new SAT, the Educational Testing Service will continue to do almost all the work, from devising the test questions, to publishing the tests themselves, to ensuring that they are administered fairly. The contract calls for the testing service to perform 98 percent of the work, an ETS spokesman said.

“They’re the best test-makers in the world, and we like working with them,” Mr. Caperton said.

The College Board chose Pearson NCS, of Bloomington, Minn., to score the writing portion of the new SAT because it believes the company could do the job better than the ETS and at a lower cost, Mr. Caperton said. Pearson NCS is a subsidiary of Pearson PLC, a London-based publishing conglomerate.

Even though the College Board and the ETS are no longer quite as closely bound, their relationship is still close, Mr. Caperton said.

“We have a stronger relationship. It’s very straightforward. It’s businesslike,” he said. “If you see a relationship that doesn’t change, it usually dies.”

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