Catherine Gewertz of Education Week has delved into the complicated issue of how testing for Common Core will be administered, and the results suggest that the prices of those tests, while probably fair for what they offer, may prove prohibitive for some states.
What we already know is this:
“Now that the new tests are almost ready, state officials are complaining that they’re too long and too costly and require too much computer technology. They’re also beginning to push back against the exams as an unwanted federal intrusion on local policy. … Georgia [recently] dropped out of the testing collaboration, saying it would create its own exams instead. Pennsylvania, Alabama, Oklahoma and Utah have already withdrawn. There are strong indications that Florida and Indiana will be next. Other populous states are also teetering. And analysts expect more defections to come.”
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The reason that states are teetering has much to do with the fact that “PARCC summative tests in mathematics and English/language arts will cost member states $29.50 per student, more than what half its member states currently pay for their tests.” The cost estimates for the PARCC tests were posted recently on its website.
Smarter Balanced issued its pricing estimates in March, and these estimates show that two-thirds of its 24 member states would save money on its summative assessments. “Unlike PARCC, Smarter Balanced broke its cost into two options for states: One option, priced at $22.50 per student, would include only its summative tests. The other, which includes summative tests as well as interim and formative tests, costs $27.30 per student.”
The cost of the tests created by PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are a pressing issue because 2014-2015 is the school year in which tests for Common Core are supposed to be functioning.
The difference in prices stems largely from the breakdown of the administration of each test. Here are some details about the differences:
In Smarter Balanced’s model, the consortium is responsible for providing some services, such as developing test items and the test-administration platform, and producing standardized reports of results. States are responsible for others, including delivering the assessment, providing help-desk services, and, in particular, scoring the tests. In PARCC, the consortium, rather than individual states, will score the tests, according to PARCC spokesman Chad Colby.
Here’s how Smarter Balanced test costs break down:
• For the “basic system” (only summative tests):
Total per-student cost of $22.50 = $6.20 (consortium services) + $16.30 (state-managed services)
• For the “complete system” (summative, interim and formative tests):
Total per-student cost of $27.30 = $9.55 (consortium services) + $17.75 (state-managed services)
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.
Its price does not include three tests that PARCC is also designing: a test of speaking and listening skills, which states are required to give but don’t have to use for federal accountability; an optional midyear exam; and an optional diagnostic test given at the beginning of the school year. Pricing for those tests will be issued later, according to Colby.
If states want to give paper-and-pencil versions of the PARCC tests, which will be available for at least the first year of its administration, that will cost $3 to $4 per student more, according to a frequently-asked-questions document prepared by the consortium.
Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced have offered spirited defenses of the prices of their testing models, both of which boil down to the argument of “you get what you pay for”:
A Power Point presentation assembled by PARCC, for instance, notes that its tests will offer separate reading and writing scores at every grade level, something few state tests currently do. It says educators will get test results from its end-of-year and performance-based tests by the end of the school year, while in many states, it’s common for test results to come back in summer, and even, in some cases, the following fall. Echoing an argument its officials have made for many months, the PARCC presentation says that its tests will be “worth taking,” since the questions will be complex and engaging enough to be viewed as “extensions of quality coursework.”
It also seeks to make the point that $29.50 isn’t a lot to spend on a test, noting that it’s about the same as “a movie date” or “dinner for four at a fast-food restaurant,” and less than what it costs to fill the gas tank of a large car half full.
Alpert, Smarter Balanced’s chief operating officer, noted many of the same points, as well as the “flexibility” of SBAC’s decentralized approach to scoring and administration, which offers states many options for how much to do themselves and how much to have vendors do. If states choose to draw heavily on teachers for scoring, he said, they derive an important professional-development value from that.
So, despite the fact that much of the argument up to this point over Common Core has centered around the conservative-liberal divide about the role of the federal government in education, it seems that it is money that is truly calling the survival of the Common Core into question. In conclusion, while the price of the testing models for PARCC and Smarter Balanced may well prove an overwhelming obstacle for some states, it is important to keep in mind that both of these testing consortia are collaborative efforts run by the states, not federally created or mandated bodies.
For more information, please visit: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2013/07/parcc_test_cost_higher_for_half_.html