JMU Assessment Tests Prompt Start of New Company


Receiving recognition for its computer-based tests is nothing new for James Madison University's Center for Assessment and Research Studies.

In just the past three years, the center has received awards from the American College Personnel Association, the Association for General Liberal Studies, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education.

Now, after more than 20 years of research, development and administration of the tests, which evaluate the strength of general education programs, the center has a new type of recognition—a business partner.

"This is an outstanding milestone for CARS and for JMU," said Donna Sundre, executive director of CARS. As of Feb. 4, Madison Assessment LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based startup, began marketing tests developed by CARS to other colleges and universities in the U.S. and abroad. Madison Assessment is the first business startup licensed to sell intellectual property developed at JMU.

Richelle Burnett, chief executive officer of Madison Assessment, and her husband, Loren Burnett, chairman of the board, have no doubts the tests will be in high demand.

"Without any marketing, any sales, any push, (CARS) created this business. I don't think there could be a better scenario for a new company," Richelle Burnett said, reflecting on the proven demand for the tests.

Loren Burnett said, "Anytime you have a leadership position, which is what CARS and JMU have created in the assessment testing area, together with inbound ordering, it's a fabulous combination."

Word about the tests has spread through the years as CARS won awards for them and made presentations about them at conferences. CARS already had more than 20 clients for the tests, including the Virginia Community College System. While part of the CARS mission is to advance assessment practice at JMU and beyond, handling the business of selling them and providing customer support is not.

"CARS faculty are trained as assessment, measurement and statistics experts. We are not business or marketing professionals," Sundre said. "Our earlier work trying to help external clients and marketing our tests was pretty difficult for us. Having Madison Assessment embark on this business venture releases us to create new tests at JMU that will also prove useful for other colleges and universities."

Madison Assessment is now selling three tests developed by CARS and used at JMU and other schools: the Information Literacy Test, the Quantitative Reasoning Test and the Scientific Reasoning Test.

There appears to be plenty of opportunity for CARS to continue creating tests.

"We have a few instruments that are under development now," Sundre said. "As we work on instruments for JMU use, their utility for other campuses will be assessed. If Madison Assessment would like to market them, we think that would be a terrific development."

Loren Burnett said Madison Assessment's relationship with CARS will be an ongoing partnership. "This is not a case of just handing something off to us and we all go separate ways. The CARS organization will continue to create and maintain content and do analysis on the testing, so we are very much joined at the hip with them."

Mary Lou Bourne, JMU's director of technology transfer, said the political climate calling for accountability is ideal for marketing assessment tests that have a proven track record.   “We are fortunate to have found highly qualified entrepreneurs to extend the reach of JMU’s nationally known assessment process that measures student learning.”

The Burnetts also feel CARS can create tests beyond general education.

"We're going to free up CARS from administering tests so that they will have more time to develop additional tests," Richelle Burnett said.

"I think there is a tremendous opportunity to go into specific disciplines," Loren Burnett added.

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Published: Monday, February 1, 2010

Last Updated: Tuesday, May 25, 2021

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