ETS Turns Fifty

University Testing

With great hoopla, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) celebrated its 50th anniversary early this spring. U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley and NBC-TV news anchor Tom Brokaw were among the luminaries traveling to Lawrenceville, NJ, to speak at the festivities. A host of celebrities including Vice President Al Gore and Big Bird added greetings via videotape.


Since its creation in 1947 by the American Council on Education, the Carnegie Corporation, the College Board and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, ETS has become the most visible standardized exam manufacturer and administrator in the world. Its massive public relations efforts help frame the way policy-makers and educators view tests and their role in society today.


A review of ETS's 50th anniversary report reveals that the five decades have also been very profitable for the corporation. Revenue for the fiscal year ending in June 1997 totaled $430 million, of which 92 percent comes from testing activities. A bit more than one-third of that income, $149 million, came from just one client, the College Board, which sponsors the SAT and related products. Fees charged to students taking the SAT have risen significantly in recent years (see box on page 9).


Though ETS is a not-for-profit corporation -- a for-profit subsidiary, the Chauncey Group, was spun off in 1996 (see Examiner, Spring 1996)-- last year's annual revenues exceeded spending by nearly $11 million. This left ETS with in excess of $41 million in cash-on-hand as of last July.


This bankroll will help the company develop new products, particularly the computerized tests on which ETS has staked its economic future (see Examiner, Spring 1997). The annual report promises "software that integrates assessment with instruction until the two are virtually indistinguishable. Computers that understand both speech and handwriting will monitor student learning and provide feedback instantaneously." Though such initiatives are likely to have a profound impact on teaching, learning, and access to decent jobs, these tools will continue to be developed by an entity that operates without public oversight or control.


The best overview of the test-maker's history, methods, and impact remains The Reign of ETS: The Corporation that Makes Up Minds, written by Allan Nairn and associates for Ralph Nader in 1980. A good review of the relationship of ETS and the College Board is included in the first two chapters of The Case Against the SAT, by James Crouse and Dale Trusheim. Both books are available from FairTest. Use the order form on page 15.