Team Spotlight: Advancing the Edtech Market Through Thoughtful Leadership

Meet Mark Rankovic, President and CEO of Certica Solutions. Mark, who has built and led software companies for nearly 30 years, took the reins at Certica in 2006, transforming it from a small data management consultancy into an innovative edtech company. In addition to the organic development of a suite of K-12 technology products, Mark and his team have also acquired companies which have deepened Certica’s ability to provide the edtech ecosystem with interoperability, content management, standards management, and key capabilities like content tagging, and content search and discovery.

A true hands-on leader, Mark keeps abreast of all facets of the business while remaining focused on leading and evolving Certica. Keep reading to learn Mark’s view on the state of edtech, his commitment to advancing the edtech market and how recent news from Certica is contributing to that effort.

There has been quite a bit of news from Certica over the past few months! Can you describe the significance and impact on AB clients?

Yes, it’s been exciting! Most notably for our AB clients, we’ve entered into strategic industry partnerships with two market leaders and pioneers in edtech: the Ed-Fi Alliance and Learnosity. In both cases, we’ve made the Academic Benchmarks™ repository of over 4 million digitized learning standards available in their respective solutions.

With the Ed-Fi Alliance, our partnership means that the Academic Benchmarks repository of learning standards is provided to the Ed-Fi community as the learning standards reference data in the Ed-Fi operational data store (ODS). For publishers and edtech vendors who align their assessment content (e.g., test questions, passages) to the Academic Benchmarks learning standards and global unique identifier (AB GUID), this means they will be able to post district assessment scores (on behalf of district clients) to the Ed-Fi ODS and take advantage of the Academic Benchmarks standards and AB GUIDs as reference data. This will allow district clients to analyze and report on student and assessment data in the ODS, with connection and visibility to the learning standards.

The Learnosity partnership is also interesting in that it allows our joint customers to leverage the Academic Benchmarks learning standards and AB GUIDs in an integrated manner within the Learnosity toolset. AB learning standards metadata will be visible in Learnosity’s item authoring user interface for streamlined and accurate standards alignment of items authored in Learnosity, and be displayed in test item previews and data reports. With Learnosity’s assessment tools and Certica’s Academic Benchmarks learning standards both being de facto industry standards in complementary areas, it made sense to form a partnership and integrate our technologies. We expect that this arrangement will enable our joint customers to utilize Academic Benchmarks more seamlessly than ever before.

Can you describe how Certica has evolved under your leadership?

Back when I joined the company, there was just a handful of people at Certica and a single product that was built to solve a very niche data problem in education. While working with our first school district customers, we became acutely aware of the problems facing education at the time—the lack of digital content and technology use, the lack of data and technology integration, and the lack of industry standards. These were all issues that many of us in the company had been working on in other industries for years. At that point we made the decision to focus on education rather than taking our data management product to other industries, allowing us to further address the issues we knew were plaguing education. Since that time, we’ve continually introduced solutions to the market and grown the company 30x, including key acquisitions of market-leading products, like Academic Benchmarks and the Navigate Item Bank™. While we are proud of our accomplishments, we know that we still have work to do. Just a few weeks ago I gave a presentation at the ASU GSV Summit on the topic of how Certica continues to operationalize industry standards to make them more useable. That work, coupled with our strategic partnerships with industry leaders like Learnosity and the Ed-Fi Alliance, are just a few ways we are endeavoring to solve some of the most significant problems facing the education sector.

What has Certica’s impact been on edtech?

As a company, we strive to advance the edtech sector to meet the needs of today’s educators, schools and students; and to fully understand where the market is currently, relative to where it needs to be in the long term. Our goal is to continually evolve our offerings and bring solutions to market that will allow our business partners to focus on their core competencies and their instructional and learning missions. In the evolution of our industry, I think we are at the dawn of a technology revolution in education. There is so much opportunity to transform education with the help of technology—as an industry we’ve not achieved our potential, but it’s exciting to be a part of it. We intend to stay at the forefront and help to accelerate that process.

What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry during your tenure at Certica?

Education is constantly changing due to education reform policies, technology innovation and the sector’s rapid growth, making this a difficult question to answer! One change is the importance of digital content and, thus, content interoperability—this is an area where Academic Benchmarks has played an integral role.

Online content requires alignments to learning standards and additional tagging for improved search; and, in turn, learning applications and platforms must be able to consume, provide search for, and deliver online content. This is where the Academic Benchmarks system has provided an interoperability framework in K-12 for more than a decade. The ecosystem of 200+ suppliers using AB, and a significant corpus of learning and assessment content that has been aligned to standards and tagged with AB GUIDs, has allowed for significant adoption and interoperability of digital content between content creators, applications and platform providers. As a result, the problem of content interoperability has been largely solved with the widespread adoption of the AB GUID and the AB machine-readable standards. Today, online educational products of all types leverage AB to interoperate with business partners, enrich content and provide searchable content in their platforms.

What Certica milestone are you most proud of?

Although most of my remarks here have been about our support for the edtech community, many of our clients know that Certica also provides products to school districts directly—that’s our company’s heritage. While we’ve had many moments that have made me proud, I’d have to say that establishing a client relationship with LA Unified early in 2016 is the moment I’m most proud of. For many companies that offer solutions to K-12, an organization the size of LAUSD can be really daunting to engage with. There are numerous challenges in large districts, a ton of bureaucracy, and many stakeholders. LAUSD is not alone in that regard. Our district products were already being used by more than 500 districts at that time, but knowing that we were solving a recognized problem with a complicated school district, and that we were having a significant impact on the district’s operations, decision-making and reporting—affecting hundreds of thousands of students—that was really gratifying. I am proud of my team for rising to the occasion.

Like many CEOs, we know you don’t take a lot of time off. What did you do on your last PTO day?

I’m a huge fan of car racing, and Formula One in particular. As it happens, last week I took a rare day off and got to drive a Mercedes AMG GT-R with the AMG Driving Academy at the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, in Austin (where I live), which is where they hold the US Formula One race each November. I’m no Lewis Hamilton, but it was a total blast.

Connect with Mark on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.