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RTI Stories

The Nation's Report Card: RTI Becomes a Force in Educational Research

“It was a constant stream of work on an ever-larger scale…”

RTI's involvement in educational research can be traced back to 1966. In that year, the U.S. Department of Education hired the Institute to support the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a project to measure the overall quality of American education and students' achievement in science, math, reading, social studies, and writing. An exploratory NAEP technical advisory committee called on Gertrude Cox to help develop the survey methodology; RTI then won a contract to conduct and administer the NAEP in 1969–the Institute's first national survey. Today, NAEP is better known as the Nation's Report Card.

RTI's success with the NAEP survey generated a stream of similar educational- assessment projects nationwide, beginning with Minnesota and spreading to nine other states over the next 20 years. "It was a constant stream of work on an ever-larger scale that required a significant enlargement of our staff in different cities around the country," says statistician Dan Horvitz.

Tom Virag, an elementary-school principal in Pennsylvania, was one of those new hires. "I saw an ad in the Pittsburgh paper that RTI was hiring a national management team in connection with NAEP," says Virag. "I applied, got the job, and was made a district supervisor, managing the sampling units in central and western Pennsylvania." Six months later, Virag accepted an offer to manage NAEP sampling units in the eastern United States, which required relocation to North Carolina. He eventually became national field director of the NAEP project and later led RTI's largest-ever survey, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in the 1970s.

Winning the various state projects and the ongoing NAEP contracts put RTI in the forefront of U.S. education research, where it remains today. This educational work also defined RTI's growing reputation for quality-of-life research. In 1966, only 21 percent of RTI's revenues derived from research in education, health, transportation, population, and the environment, but a mere three years later that number had increased to 65 percent.