Published Online: April 2, 1997


Cost of Test Proposal Up to $10 Million in First Year

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The estimated price tag on the Clinton administration's new voluntary national tests has grown to $10 million for the first year, according to the Department of Education.

As recently as one month ago, department officials were saying the budget for this year, the project's first, was $7 million. But in a March 19 letter from Marshall S. Smith, the acting deputy secretary, to congressional Republicans, he cited the higher figure.

Mr. Smith's letter was a response to one sent March 5 to the Education Department by four GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, and Rep. John Edward Porter of Illinois, the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees education. Reps. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan and Frank Riggs of California, both members of the education committee, also signed the letter. ("In Letter to Riley, GOP Lawmakers Seek Details of Testing Plan," March 12, 1997.)

The congressmen made clear that they felt left out of the decisions surrounding the national tests and wanted to know under what authority the department felt it could forge ahead without input from Congress on what they termed a "major change in federal education policy."

The administration's testing program would establish the first ever federally sponsored national tests that would provide results for individual students. The congressionally mandated National Assessment of Educational Progress, run by the department since 1969, is a nationally representative survey and does not provide individual results.

The department plans to issue a request for proposals for two test-development contracts by late this month.

In anticipation, the department released a draft "statement of work" late last month. Officials are seeking public comment on the content, time schedule feasibility, and other aspects of the document, which may be reviewed online at Comments are due by April 7.

Money Matters

The two proposed national tests, which would measure student achievement in 4th grade reading and 8th grade mathematics, would be given for the first time in 1999. They would be based on the frameworks for the NAEP exams in those subjects but would use new test questions.

In his letter, Mr. Smith said that creating the tests could cost up to $10 million this year and up to $12 million next year. With new tests to be created every year, annual development costs are expected to be $10 million to $12 million, he said.

Department officials do not believe they need additional authorizing legislation to develop the tests and make them available to states and school districts, Mr. Smith wrote. They intend to take money for the tests' creation from the existing fund for the improvement of education under the aegis of the office of educational research and improvement.

The testing project would, however, need more money from Congress in 1999 for the cost of administering the tests that year and possibly even more funds for test administration in subsequent years, Mr. Smith said in the letter.

Education Department officials plan to reimburse the states and districts for the cost of administering the tests in 1999.

Mr. Smith's letter said while the federal government would continue to bear the cost of developing new versions of the tests each year, there has been no final decision on whether the department would continue to reimburse states and districts for administration costs after then or ask them to pay those costs themselves.

The department in recent weeks had estimated the per-student costs--for administering and scoring the tests and reporting the results--at $5 per student. But now, after holding public meetings and consulting with state assessment directors, officials have more than doubled that to between $10 and $12 per student.

'No Relationship'

The letter also made clear that the citizens' board established to set policy for NAEP, the National Assessment Governing Board, "currently has no relationship to the national tests."

In addition, Mr. Smith said that the math test would be offered in a bilingual, Spanish-English version. The reading test will assess students' ability in English only.

Congress was on spring recess last week, and the GOP lawmakers to whom Mr. Smith addressed his letter were not available for comment.

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