ETS Loses SAT "Writing Test" Contract

University Testing

Breaking a five-and-a-half decades long exclusive relationship with the non-profit Educational Testing Service (ETS) to administer its admissions exams, the College Board has turned to a for-profit British company, Pearson Educational Measurement, to grade the “new” SAT I Writing Test. Scheduled to be introduced in March 2005, the exam will comprise both multiple-choice items and a student-produced essay (see Examiner, Summer 2002).


ETS has provided scoring services for the SAT II Writing Test, which is essentially the same as the “new” SAT I exam. But in June 2002, reports from that exam were delayed due to an unanticipated spike in test-takers above the expected 200,000 per year. Since the Writing Test will be a mandatory part of each of the more than two million SAT I exams administered annually, some observers questioned whether the College Board and ETS could manage the greatly increased volume.


Pearson proposes to establish a national, on-line team of readers to grade the exams through its proprietary Electronic Performance Evaluation Network. The company promises this will involve “the training and management of a large pool of readers who have recent experience as secondary school teachers or college faculty in the scoring of the essays.” Details of the scoring scheme have not yet been released.


Pearson is already the largest processor of K-12 tests in the U.S., handling 40 million exams annually. Under its previous name of NCS Pearson, the company was responsible for a Minnesota exit test scoring error, which gave failing grades to 8,000 students (see Examiner, Summer 2000 and Summer 2002). A lawsuit resulted in a special graduation ceremony for some students and millions of dollars in cash settlements (see Examiner, Fall 2002). The firm is now part of London-based Pearson, which claims to be “the world’s largest integrated education company.”


Earlier this year, ETS and the College Board signed a five-year contract for the remaining parts of SAT administration, which ETS President Kurt Landgraf said, “illustrates the long-term level of commitment ETS and the College Board have to each other.” The College Board was one of three non-profit organizations that merged their test administration functions to create ETS in 1947. For years, the companies have worked so closely together that many people believed the College Board operated from the former New Jersey equestrian estate, which is home to ETS, rather than from the midtown New York City building it owns. Despite the loss of the SAT I Writing Test contract, ETS still has annual revenues of more than $700 million.


Neither the College Board, Pearson, nor ETS has officially announced how much test-taker fees will rise to cover the added SAT section or how the additional revenues will be split among the three companies. Testing experts have estimated that the basic charge for taking the SAT I will increase by $10 to $14 over the 2002-2003 cost of $26, boosting test company income by $20 million to $30 million each year.