SAT company awards Prometric $1 billion pact

Local company to help with test for use on Web

October 06, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Thomson Prometric, a Baltimore computer testing company, has landed a $1 billion contract with the New Jersey company that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement exams.

Prometric, a division of the Canadian electronic media conglomerate Thomson Corp., will get more than $83 million a year for the next 12 years from Educational Testing Services of Princeton, N.J., the companies announced yesterday.

Under the deal, Prometric will help Educational Testing Services introduce a version of the Test of English as a Foreign Language next year. Foreign students must take the test, also known as TOEFL, to enroll in American universities. The exam is computerized, but the new version will be available online to the 4 million people who take it annually.

"It's the first wide-scale assessment ever to be delivered via the Internet," said Kurt Landgraf, Educational Testing Services president. He described the pact with Thomson as "the biggest change in Internet-based testing ever."

The new version will include advanced security measures, including voice-recognition technology, to ensure that test takers don't swap places with illegal substitutes.

Prometric plans to double its international testing sites to 700 within two to three years and open an additional 3,000 campus-based testing locations for Educational Testing Services.

The contract continues a relationship that began in 1993, when Educational Testing Services started looking into computerized versions of its exams, particularly those used worldwide.

Prometric has computerized ETS tests including graduate school entrance exams such as the general Graduate Record Exam and the Graduate Management Admissions Test used by graduate business schools.

"There's still an important role for paper and pencil testing in certain environments," said Landgraf. The college entrance SAT, taken by 1.4 million students this year, will not go electronic soon, in large part because many testing sites don't have enough computers to administer the test on a large scale, he said.

If Educational Testing Services eventually takes the SAT in that direction, Prometric will be ready, said Michael Brannick, the company's president. The company has technology that can assess writing skills such as those needed for the SAT's new essay requirement, which will be added to the multiple-choice question test next spring.

"Tests via the Internet have to be cognizant of the need for security and encryption," said Brannick, whose company has 3,000 employees worldwide. "Once the test is taken, we want to bring back the contents and maintain an individual's privacy and protection of their records."

The Maryland Department of Education has long studied going electronic with its statewide assessment exams, spokesman Bill Reinhard said.

"There's a lot of discussion, but at this point, it seems as though paper is still is an effective way of testing kids," he said.

Some talk has focused on making the state's new science assessment test, which will be administered in the 2007-2008 school year, electronic, but no plan has been made.

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