Sponsored by Oregon Business

Educational nonprofit makes software for schools

| Print |  Email
Articles - May 2011
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Northwest Evaluation Association
Incorporated: 1977
President and CEO: Matt Chapman
Employees: 412 (317 in Portland)
Annual payroll: $43 million, including benefits

NWEA, founded in Portland in 1977, pioneered the field of computer adaptive testing. Its database contains the results of approximately 200 million tests taken by students of all ability levels. But the organization was in poor financial shape when Chapman took over. His first priorities were to control costs, to develop a national marketing strategy and to work hard to retain the customers NWEA already had. Unlike nonprofits funded by charitable donations, NWEA is basically run as a software-as-a-service enterprise, with school districts paying annual fees to use the organization’s technology. The more children taking NWEA tests, the more the organization earns. With a 90% customer retention rate, each new partnership results in growth.

But Chapman is quick to emphasize that NWEA is not a business. It is a mission-driven nonprofit. There are no shareholders. The money the organization earns must go back into the mission. Chapman sees that structure as a benefit rather than a shortcoming. “We don’t have quarterly earnings reports,” he says, adding that he doesn’t miss them. “Because of that we can make the long-term investments we need to make to fulfill the mission and achieve the vision. We can afford to spend the time to make sure that we’re doing it right.”

The largest long-term investment that Chapman has overseen at NWEA is the organization’s new technology platform, which is due to be released this summer. The project represents a three-and-a-half-year, $40-million-plus investment. Of that, $26 million went to IBM and the rest went to internal expenses, including building up NWEA’s software development and quality assurance team from 15 jobs to 62. Chapman says the new platform will enable NWEA to serve the nation’s largest school districts. “We needed a platform built to scale, so that if you want to test 400,000 kids in Chicago on a Tuesday afternoon, you can.”

The new technology will also allow NWEA to expand its research of effort analysis, idiosyncratic learning patterns and other inquiries into the most effective ways to help kids learn. “I’ve been focused on the business end,” says Chapman. “But everything we do is research-based. The real question is what is the research showing us? It’s fascinating stuff, and we’re always looking at it.”

Another ongoing effort involves lobbying and public outreach. Chapman estimates that he spends about half of his work time on presentations and conversations around issues of education policy. In his view, the effort and expense that go into assessing the effectiveness of the nation’s schools detracts from the more important work of individual student achievement. “Too much of the focus of education has been accountability and No Child Left Behind, and we’re losing the focus on tools that can actually help kids learn.”

He doesn’t have to look far to find an example. Although NWEA was founded in Oregon and made its debut in Portland Public Schools in 1978, the organization’s products are no longer used in the state’s school districts. Instead the state uses OAKS tests, short for Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Chapman criticizes this expense as “$8 million per year on a test that does nothing to help kids learn.”

NWEA has no presence in Oregon schools, but it is in all of the school districts of Wyoming and South Carolina and most of the districts in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Indiana. “For the most part we’ve spread by word of mouth,” says Chapman. “Now we’re applying a more sophisticated approach to marketing. With a 10% market share we’ve got a lot of growth ahead of us.”


More Articles

The 10 most successful crowdfunding campaigns in Oregon

The Latest
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
081915-crowdfundingmainBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

One of the hottest new investment trends has proven quite lucrative for some companies.


Run, Nick, Run

October 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015

Controversial track star Nick Symmonds is leveraging his celebrity to grow a performance chewing-gum brand. Fans hail his marketing ploys as genius. Critics dub them shameless.


Storyteller in Chief: Power Player

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In 1996, after a 17-year career in the destination marketing industry, where I gained national standing as the CEO of the Convention & Visitors Association of Lane County, I was recruited by the founders of a new professional basketball league for women. The American Basketball League (ABL) hoped to leverage the success of the 1996 USA women’s national team at the Atlanta Olympics — much like USA Soccer is now leveraging the U.S. Women’s National Team’s victory in the World Cup. The ABL wanted a team in Portland, and they wanted me to be its general manager.


Child care challenge

September 2015
Wednesday, August 26, 2015
0927OHSUhealthystarts-thumbBY KIM MOORE AND LINDA BAKER

Child care in Oregon is expensive and hard to find. We delved into the numbers and talked to a few executives and managers about day care costs, accessibility and work-life balance.


5 facts about the teaching profession in Oregon

The Latest
Thursday, October 08, 2015

Based on several metrics, Oregon has one of the lowest performing K-12 education systems in the country. Teacher compensation is part of the problem.


Light Reading

September 2015
Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ask any college student: Textbook prices have skyrocketed out of control. Online education startup Lumen Learning aims to bring them down to earth.


Getting What You Pay For

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A conversation with Chris Maples, president of the Oregon Institute of Technology.

Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02