News Column

Assessment Investments Fuel Instructional-Support Market

June 16, 2014

By Michele Molnar, Education Week, Bethesda, Md.

June 16--Districts invested more money in assessment than anywhere else in the U.S. ed-tech marketplace, spurring 37 percent growth in the testing portion of the "instructional support" market segment, according to a survey of companies by the Software & Information Industry Association, or SIIA, a trade association for the software and digital content industries.

The estimated $2.2 billion in revenues that ed-tech companies generated during the 2011-12 school year from various aspects of digital testing and assessment largely fueled the overall growth in instructional support, making it the second-largest market segment studied. Instructional-support technology encompasses the software that "touches" the classroom for teaching or learning, but is not actual content itself, according to the Washington-based SIIA's definition of the category. To calculate total estimated revenues, SIIA took survey respondents' reported revenues and extrapolated to the wider market, based on the organization's own analysis.

Besides testing and assessment, instructional support includes professional development; managing instruction through learning-management systems; productivity tools like word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation applications; and K-12 extensions, such as online tutoring and GED, or General Educational Development, support. While teachers are often the users of those products, they are generally not the decisionmakers for district purchases.

A review of the instructional-support market shows an uneven story. While the segment grew to an estimated $3.3 billion in the 2011-12 school year--increasing for the second year in a row--only the professional-development category joined assessments in expanding. The other portions of the market experienced decided downturns. The learning-management-system category declined by more than 50 percent, according to the SIIA estimates, and the sales of productivity tools and K-12 extensions were also down.

The growing use of online testing--spurred by the coming online common-core-aligned assessments and greater student access to digital devices in schools--means educational technology is gobbling up more of what Outsell, a Minneapolis-based research and advisory business, estimates to be an overall $3.9 billion K-12 testing market in the United States. The market itself is expected to grow 4 percent to 5 percent a year as schools add more formative assessments and adaptive-learning tests, and the new summative assessments to gauge mastery of common-core standards become a reality. Formative assessments gauge the progress of students' learning so teachers can guide instruction, while summative assessments seek to sum up how far students have gotten toward mastery, and how well learning goals have been met.

"While I can't talk about any particular company, just about everyone in that market segment, year over year, did better," said the software-industry report's co-author, John Richards, the founder and president of Consulting Services for Education, a Newton, Mass.-based company that advises education companies.

The 9,500-student Consolidated School District 158 in Algonquin, Ill., is one example of a district that made an assessment purchase around the time period covered by the SIIA report. Consolidated 158 selected Schoolnet, which offers a suite of student-assessment tools, after a "pretty healthy search process," said Marisa Burkhart, the director of educational technology for the district. "We had data all over the place. This was a way to pull it together; it also gave us the functionality to distribute the data."

More Content, More Data

Ms. Burkhart's district bought the Schoolnet product about the same time the company was acquired by Pearson, a global education business based in London and New York City. "Things were changing very rapidly in the assessment space. For our use, it was perfect then, and as our use developed, the tool developed," she said.

Much of the growth in this testing segment of the ed-tech market is spurred by the fact that K-12 education is at a crossroads of adding devices, digital content, and the ability to extract more data via online assessments, according to assessment experts.

"There have been significant improvements in the ways schools are able to get reports and explore the data, even trying to use some diagnostic tools to help identify specific misunderstandings of students," said Michael K. Russell, a senior associate for the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, a Dover, N.H.-based nonprofit organization that consults with states on assessments. "That's clearly an advancement that should benefit instruction and learning," said Mr. Russell, noting that it's a trend he sees increasing.

"I think the market is going to have more and more need for high-quality assessment as we move into the common core," added Ellen Haley, the president of CTB/McGraw Hill, a Monterey, Calif.-based educational assessment publisher. "The standards are different now; it will be challenging."

Staff Writer Benjamin Herold contributed to this article.

Coverage of entrepreneurship and innovation in education and school design is supported in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.


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