States Ponder Costs of Common Tests
With yesterday’s news that PARCC tests will cost $29.50 per student, all states in the two federally funded common-assessment consortia now have estimates of what the new tests will cost. And they’re sorting out how—and in some cases, whether—to proceed with the massive test-design projects.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers released pricing yesterday that’s just under the $29.95 median spending for summative math and English/language arts tests in its 19 member states. That means that nearly half of PARCC states face paying more for the tests they use for federal accountability.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, the other state group using federal funds to design tests for the common standards, released its pricing in March. At $22.50 for the “basic” system of summative math and literacy tests, or $27.30 for a “complete” system that includes formative and interim tests, that group’s prices are higher than what one-third of its 24 member states currently pay.
States at various points in the cost spectrum reflected this week on the role that the new tests’ cost would play in their decisions about how to move forward. Within 30 minutes of PARCC’s announcement, Georgia, one of the lowest-spending states in that consortium, withdrew from the group, citing cost, along with technological readiness and local control over test design, among its reasons.
The cost of the tests being built by PARCC and Smarter Balanced are a topic of intense interest as states shape their testing plans for 2014-15, when the consortium-made tests are scheduled to be administered. Building support for different tests can be difficult even without a price increase. But that job is even tougher when new tests cost more than those currently in use.
“I’m not going to suggest to you that it’s an easy sell to the legislature,” said Deborah Sigman, the deputy superintendent who oversees assessment in California, which belongs to the Smarter Balanced consortium. “But we think that assessment should model high-quality teaching and learning. To do that, you have to look at assessing in different ways.
“The irony is, people say they want a robust system that gets to those deep learnings, but [then they say], ‘Let’s make sure it doesn’t take as much time and that it doesn’t cost more money.’ Those things are incongruent. Those performance items require more resources and a greater investment.”
California is facing a steeper assessment bill if it uses Smarter Balanced tests, Ms. Sigman said. The state’s lower legislative chamber has passed a measure embracing those tests, but the Senate has yet to act on it.
Douglas J. McRae, a retired test-company executive who monitors California’s assessment movements closely, believes that the SBAC test will cost the state much more than current estimates suggest. Testifying before the legislature, he said that assumptions about cost savings from computer administration and scoring, and from teacher scoring, are inflated, and that the real cost of the test there could be closer to $39 per student.
While PARCC’s pricing offers just one fee and set of services, Smarter Balanced offers two pricing levels. It will be responsible for providing some services, such as developing test items and producing standardized reports of results, and states are responsible for others, including scoring the tests. Smarter Balanced states could opt to score their tests in various ways, such as hiring a vendor or training and paying teachers as scorers, or combining those methods. Smarter Balanced will design scoring guidelines intended to make scoring consistent, said Tony Alpert, the consortium’s chief operating officer.
Smarter Balanced’s cost projections include what states pay the consortium for services, and what they should expect to spend for services they—or vendors—provide. For instance, the $22.50 cost of the “basic” system is made up of $6.20 for consortium services and $16.30 for state-managed services. The $27.30 cost of the “complete system,” which includes interim and formative tests, breaks down to $9.55 for consortium services and $17.75 for state-managed services.
In PARCC, the consortium, rather than individual states, will score the tests, according to spokesman Chad Colby. PARCC’s pricing includes only the two pieces of its summative tests: its performance-based assessment, which is given about three-quarters of the way through the school year, and its end-of-year test, given about 90 percent of the way through the school year.