Infrastructure

ACT Acquires Texas-Based Policy Group

By Scott J. Cech — August 09, 2007 2 min read

College-entrance-exam maker ACT Inc. has acquired the National Center for Educational Accountability, which is best known for its advocacy of data-driven education policy.

Officials at ACT, based in Iowa City, Iowa, and the NCEA, an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit organization, characterized the move as a natural fit of mission and culture.

“We issue a lot of policy reports to help people make data-driven decisions, and that’s what NCEA does too,” said Rose Rennekamp, a spokeswoman for ACT, which had 1,400 employees before the acquisition. “The people will be the same, the projects will be the same—they’ll just have more resources at their disposal. We’ve got a lot more researchers, more computing power.”

“Our planning is to do more of what we’ve been doing, faster and more broadly,” said Michael Hudson, the president of the NCEA. He said no money was exchanged as part of the deal, which as of Aug. 1 made the NCEA a wholly owned subsidiary of ACT.

The NCEA, whose approximately 40 employees will remain in Austin, was co-founded in 2001 by the Austin-based nonprofit organization Just for the Kids, the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, and the University of Texas at Austin to promote higher student achievement by improving state data collection and identifying practices that distinguish consistently high-performing schools from others and disseminating those findings.

Market Movement

The center has published several reports on the state of U.S. public education, and Mr. Hudson said the organization has worked in Houston and Dallas to help those districts benchmark schools’ achievement against that of better-performing schools.

“It all started with achievement data,” Mr. Hudson said. “That led to benchmarking and making that research available. … Now we realized that to actually make a difference, you actually have to train administrators and teachers on how to use data from assessments.”

Robert Schaeffer, a spokesman for the testing-watchdog group FairTest, said that from a market point of view, “the acquisition of NCEA may be a beachhead into K-12 testing” for ACT.

“We’ve noticed that the other major player on the scene—the Educational Testing Service—has moved aggressively into the K-12 realm,” said Mr. Schaeffer, whose Cambridge, Mass.-based group is formally known as the National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “ACT has been slower to enter that market.

Since first moving into the precollegiate market around 2000, the Princeton, N.J.-based nonprofit ETS has landed several big contracts, including statewide achievement jobs in California and other states. The ETS develops and administers the SAT college-entrance exam for the New York City-based College Board. The SAT is the rival of ACT’s college test. The ETS had no comment on the acquisition

Ms. Rennekamp of ACT said her organization had no firm plans yet for tapping the NCEA’s expertise in its product lineup, which includes professional development, scholarship review and application services, prework placement tests, and proctored, computer-based professional exams at its 230 testing centers around the country.

But she said the acquisition was “not at all” an attempt by the 48-year-old company to respond to the ETS’ market moves.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2007 edition of Education Week

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