Times are changing at ACT, the major assessment company that is working to transform itself into a provider of learning, measurement, and navigation services.
In late May, it was announced that CEO Marten Roorda was out, and a round of cost-cutting measures had been put into place.
With about 1,100 employees—700 of whom work in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor—the nonprofit is now under the leadership of Janet Godwin, a veteran ACT employee who rose into the executive ranks and is serving as interim CEO.
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.
EdWeek Market Brief spoke with Godwin recently about her new role, and how she envisions ACT’s future at a time when COVID-19 all but eliminated testing for 2019-2020.
Where do you begin, when you make a transition into a role like this?
I’ve worked at ACT for 30 years in just about every function in the company, and I have a lot of experience leading teams. Even in these very difficult times, it’s a very exciting opportunity.
What do you plan to bring from your predecessor?
Marten Roorda did an outstanding job assembling an excellent team, helping to define and execute a strategy for ACT, so my goal is going to be continuing along the strategic lines he outlined. We’re prioritizing with COVID-19 [fallout] now, pushing on those areas that will have the highest impact for us and our customers.
The first thing we’ll do is to go through the activities to make sure we’re focusing on the most important and do some prioritizing.
What are those top priorities?
The priority with testing being canceled this spring—and testing impacted over the summer because of persistent state and local closures—is finding a way to meet the demands of students. So many students are looking for a testing experience to help them with college and career planning, to help with merit-based decisions for college scholarships.
So our No. 1 priority is how to provide center-based testing under social distancing guidelines. We’re looking at introducing technologies we think can assist with that, and creating capacity for the demand of students who want to engage in the college and career process.
How will technologies play a role?
We’re introducing a fall online test experience within our testing centers. We announced this to market last October—bringing a computer-based testing experience online where students will receive scores within two to three days. Now, the speed with which students will be able to access scores—especially students who were displaced by testing spring into summer—will give them a quick turnaround.
What about monitoring test-taking remotely? Is that part of the plan?
So many companies have been looking at remote proctoring. We’ve been analyzing remote proctoring, too, as we looked at the opportunity for [online testing]. That’s an important capability. We’re taking our time and talking about launching an option for remote proctoring in late fall, early winter. We’re not going to rush it. We wanted to be sure we’re providing solutions that are equitable and fair to all students, and could provide another option for students as part of our vision to help meet students where they are.
ACT Acquisitions and Investments Since 2016
Under Marten Roorda’s leadership, ACT made eight acquisitions and three strategic investments [see tables below].
|ACT Acquisition||Year Completed||Acquired Company’s Focus|
|ScootPad||2020||K-8 personalized adaptive learning platform serving thousands of teachers, students and families.|
|Mawi Learning||2019||ACT acquired this provider of curriculum and professional development focused on social-emotional learning.|
|ACAC||2019||The American College Application Campaign is being managed by ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning, which focuses on closing gaps in equity, opportunity, and achievement for underserved populations and working learners.|
|Knovation||2018||A company that works on curating content and finding standards-aligned resources for school districts.|
|ProExam||2018||Nonprofit focused on noncognitive assessment and professional credentialing. ACT announced an investment in ProExam in 2017; the merger completed in 2018.|
|2018||The NRCCUA [The National Research Center for College and University Admissions] is a nonprofit educational data science and research organization.|
|MGHL Consulting’s automated item generation (AIG) technology||2018||AIG is a technology that uses human-created item models to generate test questions with a series of computer programs. ACT acquired the technology from a Canadian company.|
|OpenEd||2016||Now part of ACT Academy, OpenEd is a K-12 standards-aligned open educational resource provider.|
|ACT Strategic Investment||Year of Investment||Organization’s Purpose|
|OAT||2018||Open Assessment Technologies is a provider of open-source assessment solutions. Financial terms were not disclosed.|
|Smart Sparrow||2018||ACT made a $7.5 million strategic investment in Smart Sparrow, an adaptive learning company.|
|New Markets Venture Partners||2017||The ACT’s investment went into a 10-year fund for companies in early childhood education, K-12, and postsecondary education. The fund also plans to focus on workforce development and training.|
During his tenure, Marten Roorda was focused on transforming ACT from a testing organization to becoming a provider of “learning, measurement, and navigation” services. Are you continuing down that path, or do you see a break from that?
Marten did a number of acquisitions that have seeded our learning group. We have felt strongly for many years that we needed to reach students early in their learning experience, and help diagnose and guide them through learning opportunities. The acquisitions have allowed us to get more involved with learning and interacting with students in earlier grades. That is very, very positive, from a navigation standpoint, to understand what they like. Those dimensions of the strategy remain strong and important to us.
How does this integration of acquisitions fit into your prioritization framework?
Around prioritization, no company can do it all. So we’ll have to focus on where to put our time, energy, and resources. We’ll be true to our strategy but we have to hone it. Looking forward to the next fiscal year, we’ll have a good sense in the next couple of months where we’ll be doubling down. There are certain areas where we want to accelerate and other things we had on backlog, so maybe we’ll wait for next year to do that.
Do you have any plans to continue with acquisitions?
This acquisition of ScootPad in early May was the last piece we needed to bring out the leaning solutions we’re talking about. Now we have what we need and don’t have any plans for further acquisitions at this point.
Can you tell us why Marten Roorda left at this time?
We don’t comment on personnel matters. I’ll reiterate that Marten has done a really great job of assembling an amazing leadership team with the vision, strategy, and assets to deliver on our values. We thank him for that; we’ll take what he’s brought to bear and take it to the next level.
Are you expecting to do a broader restructuring?
Maybe yes, maybe no.
We’re looking at our organization, including some cost-saving measures and some voluntary measures for teams to adopt. We want to streamline and prepare ourselves for what are still kind of uncertain times with the pandemic we’re all living through. We’re trying to be smart, cut costs where we can responsibly, and position ACT to be strong going forward.
- ACT CEO Marten Roorda Departs as Organization Announces Cost-Cutting Measures
- K-12 Dealmaking: ACT Acquires Personalized Learning Platform; Duolingo Raises $10 Million
- ACT and Teachers’ Union Partner to Provide Remote Learning Resources Amid Pandemic
- ACT’s Chief Executive Talks Acquisitions and International K-12 Markets
- No Longer Just a Testing Company: Inside ACT’s Transformation
- K-12 Dealmaking: Illuminate Education and ACT Make Acquisitions; Byju’s Lands $150 Million Investment
- Assessment Company ACT, Touting Broader Mission, Acquires Knovation