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Published in Print: March 13, 2002, as Study: Money Is Sufficient To Meet ESEA Testing Rules

Study: Money Is Sufficient To Meet ESEA Testing Rules

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The testing requirements in the new federal education law are affordable, given the additional federal dollars provided for that purpose, a report argues.

The cost analysis, by the Washington-based Accountability Works, a nonprofit policy-research and consulting group, examines the testing mandates in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The law requires annual tests for all children in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as well as tests in science at least once in elementary, middle, and high school. Prior law had required only that children be tested in reading and mathematics at least once in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12.

Concerns that the testing requirements would amount to an unfinanced federal mandate arose repeatedly during the negotiations prior to the law's passage.

The Accountability Works study concludes that the cost increases for the 50 states and the District of Columbia to comply with the law will be between $312 million and $388 million annually. The federal appropriation to help states develop and administer such tests is nearly $360 million in fiscal 2002 and is expected to increase slowly in future years.

The study's figures exclude the cost of state education department workers and other overhead.

Conclusions Questioned

"This cost study reveals what opponents of meaningful assessment and education reform don't want you to know— namely, that new testing requirements will not bankrupt states and school districts around the nation and are, in fact, affordable," said Lisa Graham Keegan, the chief executive officer of the Education Leaders Council, the Washington-based group of state and local officials that commissioned the study.

But, said David L. Shreve, a senior committee director for the Washington office of the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, "I don't think anybody really knows how much it's going to cost to implement the testing requirements."

In addition to the upfront development, administration, printing, and scoring costs, he noted, "the development costs are not going to go away."

For the purposes of the study, Accountability Works assumed that all states had met the testing requirements in the 1994 ESEA, but would have to devise all the new tests: four reading tests and four math tests in grades 3-8 and three science tests.

According to the study's estimates, it would cost $500,000 a year over four years to produce a new test in each subject and grade level required, based on a mixture of multiple-choice and short-answer items. That calculation was validated by staff members at the Pennsylvania and Texas education departments, whose chiefs are members of the ELC.

The study further figures that administration costs—or the amount paid to vendors for such activities as scoring and reporting—would be $10 per student per year. The estimate excludes the higher annual costs in states that release all test items each year or that rely heavily on essays or extended-response questions.

"Their analysis, I think, accounts for a fairly low-cost test in terms of administration and scoring," said Mitchell D. Chester, Ohio's assistant schools superintendent. "I think there are assumptions that are part of the analysis that probably do not hold equally for different states and, for that reason, it's a less-than-precise estimate. I don't think what they estimated for Ohio is going to be adequate."

Vol. 21, Issue 26, Page 5

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