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ETS Seeking to Erase Educational Disparities

If you mention the name ETS—or Educational Testing Service—you’re bound to come across an anxious high school or college student who will recount a horror story about their test-taking experience.

And while it’s true that ETS—the world’s largest, private, nonprofit educational testing, research and assessment organization—is best known for its standardized tests, the testing company has also been actively working to educate the public that it does more than simply create exams.

Through its Center for Advocacy and Philanthropy (CAAP), ETS has been leading an effort to bridge the educational divide and improve outcomes for individuals and organizations throughout the nation.

Philanthropy and advocacy

Created in 2013, the Center has been using the ETS brand and its fiscal dollars to invest in community-based projects that focus on eliminating educational disparities, particularly within underserved and underrepresented communities.

“We see our advocacy role as raising awareness and shining the spotlight on what I like to call these burgeoning issues that are critical in education,” says Lenora Green, executive director of CAAP and a longtime employee of ETS. “They may not be well-known issues, but they will be. Or if they are well known, there is a lot of misunderstanding around them.”

Philanthropy is hardly new to the 69-year-old company that is headquartered on a sprawling green-acre campus in Princeton, New Jersey, and has regional offices around the United States, including San Antonio, Washington, D.C., and the Bay Area.

Under former president Kurt M. Landgraf, ETS created the Social Investment Fund, which committed a percentage of its profits to support local community initiatives administered by local school districts and nonprofit organizations that provide needed social services.

In its early days, the support went mostly to the local community surrounding the offices of ETS, but CAAP later replaced the fund and expanded its work on a national level.

For example, several years ago, CAAP helped to fund iCount, a research project developed by Dr. Robert Teranishi, a professor of education and the Morgan and Helen Chu Endowed Chair in Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles.

iCount is an ambitious effort that helps disaggregate data when examining issues that impact Asian Americans and Pacific-Islanders in education, debunking age-old stereotypes of Asian Americans as the model minority.

As a result of ETS’s support of the iCount initiative, ETS President and CEO Walt MacDonald spoke at a White House conference last fall about the importance of data disaggregation.

“Support from the Center for Advocacy and Philanthropy at ETS has been instrumental in our effort to create a data quality campaign for AAPIs in education,” says Teranishi, author of the groundbreaking “Asians in the Ivory Tower.” “Through their partnership, iCount has been able to raise awareness about the need for disaggregated data. We have gathered and shared best practices regarding data disaggregation policies and practices and we have developed important partnerships across the public and private sector and with various education stakeholders. ICount would not have been possible without the support from the Center.”

Policy and partnership

For Green, philanthropy isn’t just about giving money away. She sees the Center and ETS as being important conveners that can propel important policy discussions and partnerships. These partnerships can lead to conferences such as the one held in April at Rutgers University-Camden that focused on improving outcomes for young girls of color.

The school-to-prison pipeline and the plight of homeless youth are some of the other issues that Green wants to explore through the Center.

“ETS is the world’s premier research organization, so there is research that we can be doing on these issues,” says Green, who administers a “small but strategic cash-grant program” that provides a wide range of support to a variety of organizations, including the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF).

ETS has supported CDF’s Freedom Schools program in a number of states but has been a long supporter of the Trenton, New Jersey, Freedom School and was instrumental in establishing the Freedom School in Camden, New Jersey, in 2015.

In addition, as part of its outreach efforts to the community, local nonprofit organizations in Mercer County, New Jersey, can utilize the ETS campus and its facilities at no cost.

But the Center’s work does not stop there. It is far-reaching, including providing scholarships to junior and senior students at historically Black colleges and universities that cover full tuition.

Its support of civil rights organizations, such as the National Urban League, has enabled young people to participate in the group’s annual Youth Summit, says Hal Smith, senior vice president of Education, Youth Development and Health for the Urban League.

Smith says that, at the summit, participants gain access to important information and perspectives that will help them to further develop critical life skills and goals.

“While we couldn’t imagine a better partner than CAAP because of their scholarship alone, we have been doubly blessed by the personal commitment of Lenora as she joins us each year to spend time learning alongside and inspiring youth attendees with her story and her time,” says Smith.

“The leadership and staff of ETS and CAAP demonstrate their commitment to the nation’s children and youth by the way they work, partner and support innovation and we simply could not do the work we do, or have nearly the impact we do, absent their partnership, generosity and thoughtfulness.”

Within ETS, CAAP plays a critical role in organizing the monthly heritage celebrations for its employees that honor historically underrepresented groups and usually features a guest speaker. Past speakers have included Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Dr. Steve Perry, an education reformer and founder of Capital Prep schools; Richard Lui, a journalist at MSNBC; Maria Teresa Kumar, president and co-founder of Voto Latino; and Dr. Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund.

The Center also encourages employee engagement, allowing employees time off to volunteer at an organization. For three weeks each year, the Center also spearheads the annual employee giving campaign to support organizations committed to a variety of causes, from scholarships to graduating high school students, to eliminating breast cancer, fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, and cleaning up the environment.

Over the span of three weeks last year, more than 3,000 ETS employees donated a total of $925,000 to support the work of about 1,000 nonprofits.

“We were really proud of that,” says Green. “I see philanthropy as educating people about the issues.”

MacDonald says that CAAP’s work is critical to the overall mission of the testing organization.

As MacDonald conveys, “ETS’s Center for Philanthropy and Advocacy gives a voice to, and educational opportunities for, those seeking to explore the limitless possibilities their futures hold.”

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected]

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