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Educational assessment provider acquisition strategy and operations

Shaping the future of education

When a newly-acquired company wanted to scale its business, we helped create a roadmap to allow it to continue shaping the future of education.

Fact #1: Today’s students were born into technology.

These digital natives learn in different ways than their old-school predecessors and they expect familiar, tech-savvy experiences at home, on the go, and in the classroom.

Fact #2: Educational assessments leave no room for error.

Anything less than perfection can be the difference between passing and failing, between a student getting into their first choice for college or their fifth.

Catering to digital natives in such a high-stakes environment is no easy feat. It requires a complex marriage of air-tight technology and heavily-researched educational science, paired with an obsessive focus on perfection.

That combination is our client’s bread and butter.

Our client, an educational assessment and technology provider, was at a crossroads. After being acquired by a nonprofit educational organization, it wanted to increase its influence on the direction of K to 12 education.

To do so, it first needed to take a closer look at the fundamentals of its business.

“Flawless execution is really, really important”

Our client has consistently excelled at that culture of perfection.

“Flawless execution is really, really important to us,” said one our client’s executives. “The impact is dramatic. If a technology fails or something is not executed properly, we look at it through the eyes of the kids.”

“They’ve always hit it out of the park in delivering [summative] tests,” said Steve Donnelly, Slalom engagement manager. “They’ve never failed, never stumbled.”

Which is, in part, why they were acquired by a well-known provider of educational assessments.

The acquiring company was impressed by our client’s strong combination of technology and psychometrics, or the science of test creation.

“Some companies have one or the other,” said Slalom’s strategy and operations lead, Chad Corneil. “Very few companies have both."

Staying successful, though, required a renewed focus on organizational foundation.

“If you’re going to be able to put your name on these tests and ensure the same level of quality,” said Donnelly, “you’ll have to make investments around data architecture and technology and keep same level of quality around your results.”

Getting into the technology game

The educational landscape is changing, ranging from the simple—shifting from paper to computer-based assessments—to the cutting edge, such as personalizing instruction and automating once-manual tasks, like scoring tests.

“That’s where the game’s at right now,” said Susan Kenniston, Slalom program manager. “You’ve got to have the technology.”

New and innovative technologies can help educators pivot their lesson plans to provide a more personalized (read: effective) experience.

“It’s immediate,” said the executive.

“It allows a teacher to come in the next day and make adjustments to instruction and immediately change the path in terms of how that individual student learns … so that kids have the same, but different, experiences in terms of opportunity to be successful.”

But those technology-enabled adaptations reinforce the need for perfection.

“It requires new research, new ways of looking at these platforms, and really top-notch technical teams who can churn out high quality systems … because the tolerance for error or unreliability or any failure to scale is really low,” said a leader at the nonprofit.

“We need to be able to give folks a fair opportunity to demonstrate their skills and abilities and knowledge, and we want to do that absolutely reliably—no matter what environment we’re in.”

The fundamental question: How do we scale?

The acquiring provider wanted to set our client up for success in taking on new, larger customers and services.

“They wanted to know: what is needed to support us scaling the business?” said Kenniston. “That was the fundamental question.”

The Slalom team, led by Kenniston, put our client’s organizational structure, processes and frameworks, and technologies under a magnifying lens. They delivered a list of actionable recommendations to help the business understand what’s needed now to support its short- and long-term goals.

The team is also helping the assessment provider take those recommendations and transition them back into the business to promote a new, more efficient way of working.

“The goal is to have an impact,” said the leader. “It’s consistent with both of our missions to expand that reach.”

It’s like buying a house, explained Donnelly. Not only do you want to make improvements, so you can live there, you also want to increase the home’s market value.

Those home improvements will allow the readiness provider to bolster its online testing capabilities and technologies, allowing it to move into new markets.

They will also allow our client to expand its business to larger-scale contracts, such as heavily-populated states, and add formative, or “along the way,” tests to its repertoire.

A passing grade

Our client now has the knowledge and action plan required to successfully expand its business to new markets and larger customers.

“We’ve built and crafted technology solutions which allow for flawless performance,” said the executive. “And we’re hopeful that the guidance that we’ve received … is going to help us scale the company … and continue along that path … of flawless execution.”

That growth will get the company closer to fulfilling its ultimate goal: providing digital solutions to shape the future of K to 12 education.

            

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