Budget Woes Force States to Scale Back Testing Programs

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Faced with budget deficits and the possibility that their testing systems may soon change, several states are cutting back on the number of tests they plan to administer this school year.

States are saving money by scaling back on the number of grade levels or subjects—and sometimes both—in their testing programs next spring. Most of the cutbacks are in subjects other than reading and mathematics.

Under the federal "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001, states are required to assess all students in grades 3-8 in reading and math by the end of the 2005-06 school year. The law also requires that high school students be tested in those subjects at least once during high school by that school year.

In Oregon, the state education department will save $4.5 million by scrapping its writing tests for 3rd, 5th, and 8th graders, its 5th and 8th grade science assessments, and the extended-response portions of its 5th and 8th grade math exams.

State officials decided to cancel the tests because they require scoring by people, rather than by machines, making them expensive to administer, said Barbara Wolfe, a spokeswoman for the department. The officials expect the testing to resume in the 2003-04 school year, she said.

In Missouri, the state will save money by not paying for its science and social studies exams this year. The decision will save the state $7.1 million. Missouri officials gave districts the option of paying $5.30 per student for administration of the tests. So far, about 475 of the state's 524 districts have agreed to pay, according to James Morris, a spokesman for the state education department.

Meanwhile, Maryland middle schools may opt out of the state's 8th grade test, so long as they don't receive federal Title I money. Schools that receive the federal aid must take part in the test to demonstrate student-achievement trends. In 2003-04, the state will replace its testing system with a new one that is designed to comply with the No Child Left Behind Act.

This year, Massachusetts will not give history or social studies tests while the state rewrites its content standards in those areas, said Heidi B. Perlman, a spokeswoman for the state education department.

And the Georgia state board of education has voted to make the state's norm- referenced testing program optional for schools. The decision must be approved by the legislature.

Testing 'On Pause'

In addition to cutting back on the amount of testing previously planned for the current school year, other states have slowed the development of new assessments, according to one testing-industry executive.

Many states withheld issuing requests for proposals for such work that test contractors had expected to see in recent months. Instead of proceeding, states are awaiting final regulations that will spell out what they need to do to comply with the new federal law.

"No Child Left Behind has put them all on pause," said Maureen DiMarco, a vice president of the Houghton Mifflin Co.,a Boston-based publisher of testing products. "Until you know for sure what the rules are, why do it now and look embarrassed?"

Vol. 22, Issue 6, Page 24

Published in Print: October 9, 2002, as Budget Woes Force States to Scale Back Testing Programs
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