Standardized Testing and the Common Core Standards: You Get What You Pay For?

In the next school year, field testing of new Common Core assessments will be complete, and states will be faced with the weighty decision about which tests they will use to measure student learning going forward. Two state consortia, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), are currently developing the leading options for Common Core–aligned assessments. But states in which anti–Common Core sentiment runs deepest have begun to back away from the consortia (to date, four states—Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Utah—have officially withdrawn), leading to consternation among Common Core supporters and joy among detractors. This has left remaining states in a pickle: If additional states withdraw, will the cost of consortia-developed assessments skyrocket as the fixed costs are spread over fewer states? This new report from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center sought out answers—and contains good news for those states choosing to stay the course. After calculating the projected costs for consortia-developed assessments, summarizing key differences between the two, and estimating the costs for non-consortia testing options such as ACT-developed assessments and vendor-developed, state-specific tests, author Matthew Chingos found that price fluctuations that could occur if more states withdraw would be relatively minor. For example, even when considering the possible departure of Florida, PARCC’s second-largest member, the price of PARCC’s tests would only increase by about 60 cents per student. If only the fifteen states currently field testing PARCC were to ultimately adopt the tests, test costs would increase by just $2.50 per student. For SBAC, Chingos estimates that the withdrawal of the six consortia states experiencing the most political contention would only increase the cost of its tests by $2.60 per student (though he notes that there is slightly more uncertainty about SBAC’s price estimates than about PARCC’s). Importantly, the report also stresses that as a nation, we do not spend very much on assessments; PARCC and SBAC are currently estimated to ring in at $29.50 and $22.50 per student, and the current state average is $27. This seems a drop in the bucket when compared to the $10,500 spent per student annually. When the success of the standards hinges on the quality of the tests, this seems a shortsighted place for states to penny pinch. 

SOURCE: Matthew M. Chingos, Standardized Testing and the Common Core Standards: You Get What You Pay For? (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, October 2013).

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