ACT CEO Marten Roorda Departs as Organization Announces Cost-Cutting Measures

Associate Editor

UPDATED

Marten Roorda, the CEO of ACT, is leaving his position, according to an announcement from the Iowa City-based organization.

The circumstances around Roorda’s departure were not immediately explained by the company. Replacing him as interim CEO will be Janet Godwin, the organization’s chief operating officer, who is a 30-year veteran of the nonprofit that produces and administers the ACT test.

She has held positions at ACT in test development, information technology, and client engagement, as well as senior-level positions, including serving as vice president of operations, chief of staff, and now COO for nearly six years.

ACT has long been associated in the public eye with college-admissions testing, an area where it has worked for decades. But since joining ACT in 2015, Roorda has presided over an expansion of the organization’s reach by making numerous acquisitions in areas other than those directly focused on assessment, moves designed to transform ACT into a “learning, management, and navigation organization.”

Just two weeks ago, Roorda talked about ACT’s recent acquisition of ScootPad, a personalized adaptive learning platform for K-8 students.

In 2019, ACT acquired Mawi Learning, a provider of curriculum and professional development focused on social-emotional learning. In 2018, it scooped up Knovation, a company that works on curating content and finding standards-aligned resources for school districts, among other goals.

“I don’t think that purchase would have happened if it weren’t for Marten’s tenacity and desire to see it through,” said Randy Wilhelm, the co-founder and CEO of Knovation when it was acquired. He said Knovation was attractive because “we were doing some really advanced machine learning leading into artificial intelligence work.” That work continues at ACT, he said.

Last year, Roorda gave an in-depth interview with EdWeek Market Brief Managing Editor Sean Cavanagh, in which he detailed his goals for transforming the company.

“[We] developed a vision for the learning business, and learning and navigation are very tightly connected,” Roorda said at the time. “If you generate rich data in learning technologies, you’ll be able to help students, and institutions, to navigate.”

While ACT “has been an authority in testing and learning for six decades, we’re not one of the biggest testing or publishing companies,” he added. “You have companies out there like ETS, Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education—now with Cengage—those are very big companies. So my strategy is to outsmart them.”

Among his priorities was developing the ACT HolisticFramework to create a comprehensive description of the knowledge and skills students need to succeed in school and in the workforce, and to fashion a more consistent language for predictors of success, from early grades through college.

The leadership change was part of an announcement about cost-cutting measures the nonprofit is taking in light of disruptions in assessment this spring from COVID-19 closures.

ACT postponed its April 2020 national test date, out of concern for the safety of students and those administering the test, and also saw a significant decline in its state and district testing programs, the nonprofit said. While ACT will continue to offer testing in June and July, it will do so with fewer open test centers and with social-distancing practices reducing test centers’ capacities.

Among the steps taken now to reduce costs are voluntary options for ACT’s team members to reduce their work hours, take leaves of absence, or voluntarily resign and receive severance pay. In addition, the organization announced there would be no raises next year and some fringe benefits would be reduced. Beyond the steps announced Thursday, further cost reductions are expected.

This post has been updated to include comments from Randy Wilhelm, Knovation’s co-founder and former CEO.

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