Reflecting on the Past, Looking Toward the Future

“Make no mistake, if ETS succeeds in being responsive without being responsible, or in being responsible without being responsive, it will have failed,” said Randy Bennett, ETS’s Norman O. Frederiksen Chair in Assessment Innovation.

Bennett’s statement captures the challenge posed for any nonprofit organization in today’s hyper-competitive world. Such organizations must uphold high standards to serve the public good while, at the same time, offering products and services that are useful, practical and affordable in the eyes of its customers.

“In order to make reasoned decisions about how to continue to meet that challenge, we need to be cognizant of where we have come from,” Randy Bennett said. “It’s especially true for a nonprofit organization because its continued existence is usually rooted in its founding purposes.”

Bennett spent a good part of the last six years reflecting on and leading an effort to preserve ETS’s 70-year history of contributing to education research and policy. Bennett and former ETSer Matthias von Davier, now a Distinguished Research Scientist with the National Board of Medical Examiners, along with over 20 others, contributed to the recently published book Advancing Human Assessment: The Methodological, Psychological, and Policy Contribution of ETS.

The book takes readers from the inception of ETS as a unique organization that attracted researchers from varying scientific fields to how their work advanced methodology, scientific psychology and education policy.

“The progenitors of ETS were focused, ambitious, and dedicated to the idea that educational measurement could be used to meet big challenges that faced education and society, including using assessment to guide instruction, aiding individuals in their educational and career choices, and increasing opportunity — challenges that largely remain with us today ” Bennett said.

In 1947, ETS was created to take over the testing programs of other organizations and to establish a broad-based program of scientific research. By the 1950s, that research program covered a wide variety of topics in measurement and psychology.

In the 1960s, fairness in testing took on prominence due to the civil rights movement. Researchers began developing methodology for evaluating and for facilitating fairness in tests, work that continues to this day. Beginning in the 1970s, fairness concerns were extended to students with disabilities, and subsequently to females and those who speak English as a second language.

Emerging in these and later time periods were a host of innovations, including holistic scoring, which improved quality and efficiency in grading assessments that used essay tasks. A second innovation included design and analysis approaches such as confirmatory factor analysis and propensity score matching, which are now used throughout the social sciences.

“A commitment to research was one basis on which ETS’s founders built the organization,” Bennett said. “I hope readers will take away how that commitment not only served organizations like ours well, but how it can lay a solid foundation for the future.”

Go to for a free digital version of Advancing Human Assessment: The Methodological, Psychological, and Policy Contributions of ETS.

Head to our YouTube to watch interviews with the book’s contributing authors.