Saturday, June 24, 2006

Teacher Watch--ETS Hydra Adds Another Arm

It's more difficult by the minute to track who owns what, who's bought or partnered with whom in the test and curriculum industry. It's practically migraine-inducing even to try.

Here at "HorseSense" we attempt in our modest way to keep you up to date on some of the key players and their new deals. This isn't simply trivia. It's important for teachers, parents, students and activists to have at least some information about key players in the industries that shape policy and research in education. Under-our-nose acquisitions, partnerships and mergers can make individual corporations seem smokier, less direct, in their lines of accountability to public money. See our coverage of scoring errors in the SAT and California High School Exit Exam (CASEE) earlier this year.

In a new maneuver to aquire a competitive edge in teaching writing through computer assessment, Educational Testing Service (ETS) has teamed up with Great Source, a division of publishing heavyweight Houghton Mifflin. Houghton Mifflin announced in a May 30 press release that its Great Source division will now "market and distribute subscriptions to a co-branded version of ETS’s Criterion Online Writing Evaluation."

"Distribute subscriptions" means selling and managing sales. Co-branding is a partnership marketing strategy between corporations seeking to corner or control a market. According to a term coined by Brandenburger and Nalebuff (1996) this maneuver is called "coopetition." Such connections are not always clearly advertised to the public. (Consider how the connection between Philip Morris and Kraft Foods became camouflaged in 2002 when the parent corporation was re-named Altria Group.)

ETS's Criterion online writing program for grades 4-university will now complement Great Source's Write Source textbooks. According to John Oswald, senior Vice President of ETS Elementary and Secondary Education, "By working together, we can reach more schools with stronger resources that give students the practice they need to become clear, fluent, and effective writers."

And there's more: In a development announced by ETS June 6, Criterion has also partnered with Educere, "a respected provider of virtual education services to K-12 schools."

The ETS announcement of the Educere partnership makes no reference to the new Great Source connection, an announcement reserved for a previous, separate release. In effect, however, we now have an alliance between Criterion, Educere and Write Source--with quite a corporate trail in the wings.


Anonymous said...

I just Googled "Criterion ETS" because my daughter came home with an essay assignment for her Language Arts class that had to be submitted to Criterion.

As a book editor, I was wary of the concept of computer-graded writing assignments. Now that I have seen Criterion in action, I am downright alarmed. The program identified several grammatical errors that didn't exist, and didn't understand the concept of proper nouns; it marked all names as misspellings. It also took off points for "word repetition," based on the frequency of the use of "she." Given that the essay was a character analysis of a female protagonist, the repeated use of "she" was perfectly reasonable.

If this is the future of public education, I'm going to have to think about home-schooling.

Jo Scott-Coe said...

I think you'd be interested in my reports about the Association of Test Publishers Conference in 2006. At this million-dollar event in an Arizona resort, many test makers were bragging about the latest in outsourced essay grading: overnighting papers to India. You can read it here:

Also, information from an ETS conference about Keeping Learning on Track (KLT) at their Pathwise conference: