On June 25, 2020, ERB announced an exclusionary marketing agreement with for-profit, Seattle-based, tutoring company Test Innovators. Piqosity was appalled by this unprecedented arrangement between a non-profit education consortium and a for-profit test-prep company and sent an open-letter to ERB’s President, Dr. Thomas Rochon. Dr. Rochon responded on June 29, 2020. The full text of his response is below.
We thank Dr. Rochon for his timely response; however, he failed to address the majority of our original concerns:
- Does ERB endorse Test Innovators, including their online tutoring, over the other 100k+ American educators working with ERB students?
- What is the financial arrangement between ERB, its board, and close partners with Test Innovators? How much money is kicked back to ERB when a registered ISEE student is successfully up-sold to one of Test Innovators’ $380 products? Does ERB receive an additional kickback when a registered ISEE student also purchases online tutoring or test prep courses?
- If ERB needs licensing revenue, is there a structured, open way for other tutors and publishers to also license content (especially the $380 retired full-length practice test)? If so, what is that fee?
Furthermore, Dr. Rochon introduces/reinforces three additional, concerning points:
- He intimates that Test Innovators possess compelling data regarding “efficacy or impact” of their $380 tutoring and test prep programs. Does Dr. Rochon buy into meaningless claims from Test Innovators like “76% of students who practiced with Test Innovators were accepted into their first choice school”* despite the complete lack of measurable causation? Hopefully Dr. Rochon knows that his member schools don’t consider practicing for the ISEE at Test Innovators to be an application highlight worthy of special admission consideration. Does he endorse this type of misleading marketing?
- He doubles down on the assertion that the agreement with Test Innovators is about increasing access to an “extensive premium package free to all financially-needy students.” We applaud this ostensibly noble goal and likewise wish more families had access to America’s elite private schools. However, wouldn’t ERB’s efforts and its students be better served by highlighting programs from the many, local educators and organizations who know their region’s students and schools best as opposed to so strongly pushing a single, Seattle-based firm?
- Furthermore, how is ERB going to protect its captive, financially-vulnerable referrals from additional up-sells (“tutor consultation”*) from Test Innovators for expensive private tutoring and test prep courses, which may not be in the family’s best interest?
Although we are but a small, boot-strapped startup with sometimes too idealistic goals, we maintain our recommendation:
- Don’t endorse anyone. Instead, empower the 100,000+ US private educators to have an equal chance at supporting ISEE students.
- Make all official materials available to everyone. No one should have to purchase a $380 package from Test Innovators just to get access to a single, retired, practice test.
- Consider an open marketplace of vendors. If ERB must provide endorsements (paid or otherwise), make it an open platform like an “app store” whereby other educators and publishers can have their materials and services fairly vetted for listing.
*As marketed by Test Innovators on their website on June 29, 2020.
Dear Mr. Joe,
Thank you for introducing us to Piquosity.com[sic]. We are delighted to know of your adaptive, individualized learning platform focused on “pique[ing] every student’s curiosity according to their individual needs and preferences.”
As background to our announcement earlier this week, Test Innovators (TI) was vetted by ERB over an 18-month period prior to us having reached an agreement with them. Our Board of Trustees conducted two extensive conversations, in spring 2019 and again in winter 2020, on the subject of test prep in general and a possible partnership with TI specifically. Far from being a revenue-motivated licensing arrangement as claimed in your message, the two key factors in this agreement were (1) the educational value of the TI program as opposed to a narrow focus on preparing for a standardized test, and (2) the ability to offer a significant program of test familiarization and preparation free to all ISEE test registrants, and to offer an extensive premium package free to all financially-needy students who receive an ISEE fee waiver. That premium package is more extensive than what is described in your letter, including the following elements:
● Six full-length tests
● Premium video course
● 2,200 practice exercises
● Online test portal
● Printable versions
● Score report
● Interactive diagnostics
● Personalized Prep Plan
● Tutor consultation
● 5 extra pairs of essay prompts
Our collaboration with TI, in summary, ensures that every ISEE student, regardless of means or where they reside, has access to the highest quality test preparation: preparation that provides test familiarization, that targets each student’s unique areas of need, that is engaging and interactive, that reduces anxiety and fear, and that motivates students through encouragement. We know from surveys how few ISEE test takers previously had access to this kind of opportunity. We intend to measure the expansion of opportunity and the impact on test scores over the next two years as this program is adopted by many ISEE test registrants.
If you would like to have your program considered for a similar arrangement with ERB in the future, Mr. Joe, I would ask that you send us more information on the educational focus of your program and on your company’s commitment to equity and justice, as well as any data you may have on efficacy or impact.
Meanwhile, since you distributed your letter widely, I would consider it to be both a kindness and a sign of integrity if you would post this reply in the same places.
Thomas R. Rochon