On June 25, 2020, the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) announced an exclusionary marketing arrangement with the private, for-profit test prep company Test Innovators. Test Innovators charges $389 for access to a single, retired test from ERB. We disagree with this opaque relationship that is bound to adversely affect so many educators and their students. Below is an open letter to ERB president Thomas Rochon from Piqosity’s founder Shelby Joe.
Dear Dr. Rochon,
I write to you as the founder of Piqosity.com, an edtech startup based in Houston, Texas. Our goal is to pique every student’s curiosity according to their individual needs and preferences.
For the last five years, we have worked tirelessly to build an adaptive, individualized learning platform. We started with offering preparation material for the ISEE, because that’s an area we knew from offline private tutoring in the Houston market. Only a few weeks ago we expanded to offer no-charge practice tests for the ACT and SAT, and we are developing courses for core academic subjects like English and math.
With its announced agreement with Test Innovators, we were shocked to hear that ERB is providing preferential treatment to a single, for-profit tutoring company. This action seems contrary to ERB’s motto. It is not “lighting the pathways to learning;” instead, it seems to be pushing a financially-opaque arrangement on unsuspecting families.*
This announced deal is not like College Board’s partnership with Khan Academy. Khan Academy is a non-profit and does not sell test-prep services, and College Board makes their sample tests freely available online for everyone—not for $380 via one reseller during the worst economic depression in modern history.
Is this arrangement with Test Innovators about raising revenue from licensing fees? If so, we think that’s a bad precedent for a non-profit education consortium to set, but we’d at least like to know what the fee to play is.
Support All Educators
What benefit does this exclusionary marketing arrangement with a single tutoring company have for ERB? How does excluding all of the other companies and private educators increase the marketability and desirability of the ISEE test?
According to the US Economic Census, there are nearly 9,500 registered “educational support services companies” (NAICS 61171) employing over 106,000 tutors and teachers. Of course this figures does not count the innumerable educators who are not registered with the Census.
Especially during the shift to online instruction amid the pandemic, ERB’s decision to exclude so many hard-working, well-meaning educators could have a disastrous economic impact on the future employment of those tutors and teachers.
Test Innovators sells online, private tutoring and courses directly alongside its digital test prep materials. Does ERB also endorse their tutoring services above the other 106k+ US educators?
This exclusionary arrangement accomplishes nothing outside of stifling innovation in education technology and limiting the potential for all students to have access to affordable, innovative, and effective learning solutions.
By way of example, for the ISEE Lower Level, Piqosity offers 10 full-length practice tests for just $99—versus Test Innovators we offer 40% more content for one-fifth of the price, which we think is far more reasonable than the $380 or $63 per practice test charged by ERB’s new partner.
The only thing innovative about that pricing strategy is price gouging of what is now an increasingly captive audience courtesy of ERB.
More than 40,000 individuals came to Piqosity over the last year for our ISEE prep materials including our free review guides on basic concepts in math and english. More than 1,000 students worked privately with our tutor partners in central Houston alone.
We are building a learning platform where any qualified educator can contribute modular teaching content that is mixed-and-matched according to each student’s unique needs.
Our platform is the opposite of overpriced and exclusionary. We endeavor to support and empower every educator to do their best jobs for students, and we would hope that ERB does too.
Make a Difference
We are but a small, bootstrapped startup; nonetheless, we offer these suggestions:
- 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.
Of course, Piqosity would also be delighted to offer free access to any student that qualifies for fee waivers. Indeed, there are likely thousands of educators and tutoring companies that already provide similar offers and would have gladly joined with ERB in making such an ostensibly, bold gesture.
I look forward to working with ERB on increasing access to affordable and effective instruction for all students, which is inclusive of all of the other tens-of-thousands of private educators in this country—educators who want to support ERB students and are working to make a difference during these increasingly tumultuous times.
If you are an educator currently using or considering using Test Innovators, we urge you to reconsider. We guarantee you that Piqosity will cost less than half of what Test Innovators is charging, and we won’t sell tutoring services to compete against you.
Please note that obviously Piqosity is neither affiliated with nor endorsed by the Educational Records Bureau (ERB) and that ISEE® is a registered trademark of ERB.
*We don’t know the contractual agreement between Test Innovators and ERB, but we do know that Test Innovators is only marketing the official ERB test as being available in their $380 package.
We are also exploring additional ways to increase access to innovative, online learning. If you too are passionate about educational equality, please feel free to contact us.
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