The American Institutes for Research, which developed Indiana's new ILEARN test, is selling off its assessment division to Cambium Learning, an education technology company.

EdWeek Market Brief was the first to report that sale.

According to Adam Baker, spokesman with the Indiana Department of Education, "We've received assurances from AIR this will have no effect."

In 2017, the state awarded a three-year, $43.4 million contract to American Institutes for Research, a nonprofit assessment and research company, to design the replacement of the ISTEP exam. It was chosen from among five vendors.

ILEARN was administered for the first time this spring and had several changes over the past ISTEP+. Among the changes: It’s computer adaptive, which means the difficulty of the test adjusts to each student’s skills. It’s totally online. It is a shorter test, with fewer questions. There is one testing window.

As predicted, scores statewide were low compared to the performance on last year's test — which was a different test, ISTEP+.

Even before the ILEARN results were released to the public Sept. 4, Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb called for a one-year delay in using those scores toward teacher evaluations or the A-F ratings for schools. Jennifer McCormick, the state superintendent for public instruction, also has called for the one-year pause on using test results for school accountability and teacher evaluation.

According to an Aug. 22 news release on the American Institutes for Research website, "Cambium Learning Group, Inc., a leading provider in education software and portfolio company of Veritas Capital, today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire AIR Assessment, the student assessment division of the American Institutes for Research (“AIR”), one of the world’s largest behavioral and social science research organizations."

The EdWeek report described AIR as "one of the best-known organizations in the education testing market."

It further states, "AIR has a major footprint in assessment. The nonprofit organization says it administers online tests in more than 20 states and delivered assessments to more than 60 million students last year."

It further reported that "the organization has had several suitors looking to buy its assessment portfolio over the past decade, and it gave serious consideration to them before deciding that Cambium Learning — which is controlled by a private-equity firm — was the right match," according to David Myers, AIR’s president and CEO, in the EdWeek Market brief article.

The article continues, AIR’s decision to sell off its assessment division was driven partly by overall shifts in the testing market, according to Myers. There is increasing demand, and market opportunity, in district-level assessments, such as formative assessment. But AIR’s leadership, including its board, questioned whether the organization should make that transition, it stated.

The article quoted Myers as saying, "We’ve done really well in the state market, but there are different challenges when you go to the district market,” Myers said.

Last December, Cambium was acquired by Veritas Capital, a private equity firm. Based in Dallas, Cambium delivers ed-tech, instructional resources, software as a service, and other products and services to school districts, according to the article.

The EdWeek article also quotes Scott Marion, the executive director of the Center for Assessment, which consults states and districts on testing issues.

A big part of AIR’s legacy has been its ability in creating effective online tests – particularly computer-adaptive tests – at a time when many large-scale vendors were struggling to get them off the ground.

“They anticipated the computer-adaptive testing market before anybody,” Marion said in EdWeek, and despite some setbacks, “they were able to put a platform out there without the system crashing.”

The state testing market might seem attractive and lucrative, but it can be a perilous one for vendors, Marion said, in the EdWeek Market brief article. State policymakers are continually demanding that vendors produce and administer high-stakes tests that are “faster tests that do more things,” and if a company makes a mistake, it ends up incurring public wrath and demands for damages from the state.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at sue.loughlin@tribstar.com Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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