Accreditation Provider and Contractor AdvancED, Measured Progress Announce Merger

Senior Editor
Mark Elgart, AdvancED

The accrediting and contracting organization AdvancED and the testing provider Measured Progress will merge, with the goal of selling a unified set of assessment and school improvement products to schools and districts.

The two organizations announced the partnership today, after the deal was approved by their respective boards.

AdvancED is the nation’s largest pre-K-12 accrediting organization, a role in which it reviews districts’ performance on a variety of factors, such as school governance, teacher performance, and students’ perception of their learning environment.

The organization also has a separate contracting business focused on providing districts with advice on school improvement. AdvancED’s dual roles as accreditor and consultant has stirred controversy among those who say the organization’s role judging schools could compel districts to buy their services in the hopes of boosting their accreditation standing. AdvancED says it creates clear boundaries to separate those two lines of its business.

The merger will create a new, $120 million nonprofit organization with 500 employees.

The core work of both organizations will remain the same, said Martin Borg, the president of Measured Progress, and AdvancED CEO and President Mark Elgart, in an interview.

What will change is that Measured Progress will join with AdvancED to provide schools and districts with a suite of formative, interim, and other assessments—measures meant to enhance schools’ ability to refocus themselves academically and other ways. The work Measured Progress does could include creating dashboards to help schools analyze data, surveys for parents and students, and eventually measures of students’ social-emotional learning, Borg said.

The name of the new organization hasn’t been finalized. It will continue to have its headquarters in the cities where the two organizations are currently based: Atlanta and Tempe, Ariz., for AdvancED; and Dover, N.H., for Measured Progress.

Measured Progress, a test-provider founded in 1983, has traditionally drawn about 90 percent of its business from large-scale, high-stakes state assessments, explained Borg.

But over the last three years, it has put an increased focus on a broader array of assessments, including formative measures designed to improve classroom practices, and interim tests given throughout the year.

The goal is to “provide reliable information to leaders as they look to improve themselves,” Borg said. “It will pull the disparate bits of information together,” focused on “how do you move the whole component forward.”

Tech and Analysis for Districts

Elgart said that AdvancED has typically relied on local districts’ measures in gauging their progress in improving their schools. The “capability and quality” of those local measures have been uneven, he said. The partnership with Measured Progress is meant to change that.

“Our schools have asked us, ‘As we do the school-quality measures, is there any way we could connect with student outcome measures?’” Elgart said. “And that is the specialty and expertise of Measured Progress.”

Measured Progress’ assessment work in the new partnership will be integrated only within AdvancED’s school improvement efforts; it will not be connected to AdvancED’s accreditation work, Elgart said. Similarly, in states where Measured Progress is the provider of high-stakes, summative assessments, the testing organization will continue to perform those duties, independent of the consulting it provides with AdvancED on local improvement efforts, he said.

Those lines of the business will have a “firewall” around them and be “distinctly separate” Elgart said. The only benefit of the partnership to AdvancED’s accreditation side will come indirectly, from the “knowledge we gain from working in schools,” such as in refining and improving the standards it sets across schools for accreditation, he added.

AdvancED has drawn criticism in some quarters from those who say that its work as an accreditor makes the organization well-positioned to gain school-improvement work from districts.

Elgart said that his organization has upgraded its internal controls to guard against conflicts and make sure that local schools facing accreditation don’t feel compelled to hire AdvanceED for improvement work.

“I think it’s a risk that we continue to be mindful of and respectful of,” he said. With the merger, “I don’t think [the risk] has increased.”

One standard for judging the success of the work that AdvancED and Measured Progress produce is whether the local tests they develop are closely aligned with the curriculum schools and districts use, said Ellen Forte, the CEO of edCount, LLC.

One of the flaws with many of the classroom assessments created for districts is that they don’t hit that mark, said Forte, whose organization works with testing companies, districts and others on designing, developing, and evaluating assessments.

Local tests need to be “not only a high-quality program,” she said. “The curriculum and assessments have to go together. If you’re not connected with the scope and sequence of the curriculum, I’m not sure the assessments will be all that useful.”

Many testing companies today are increasing their focus on district and classroom-level assessments, rather than high-stakes testing, noted Forte.

Broadly speaking, the local market can be more lucrative, and vendors traditionally haven’t faced as much scrutiny as they have at the state level, though Forte said she hopes that is changing.

“Other companies have taken a step into these local markets,” Forte said, adding, “there’s far more work to be had.”

Elgart said both organizations will bring technology and analysis customized to the needs of individual schools and districts.

“It will be unparalleled in the market,” Elgart said. Districts today are “awash in data. More data than they know how to handle. We’re going to try to break that down for them in a way that’s usable, that’s accessible and that’s impactful for learning.”

Photo of AdvanceED President and CEO Mark Elgart from 2017, by Melissa Golden for Education Week.

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