Federal Letter to the Editor

No Child Left Behind Testing Is An Expensive Intervention

January 08, 2013 1 min read

To the Editor:

The article “Standardized Testing Costs States $1.7 Billion a Year, Study Says” (edweek.org, Nov. 29, 2012) summarizes Matthew M. Chingos’ report, issued by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, on the state costs of the No Child Left Behind Act-required achievement testing. Chingos’ report uses the term “assessments.” He emphasizes that despite the $1.7 billion annual price tag, the cost is really quite low because it is about “a quarter of 1 percent” of the total K-12 education spending, and the dollar cost per pupil is on average $65.

These figures imply that NCLB testing is a relatively inexpensive assessment. But high-stakes testing is not an assessment. It is an intervention. The first two sections of NCLB state that the purpose of annual testing is not to inform teachers about student progress, but to raise test scores, and to reduce the majority-minority gap in achievement-test scores.

High-stakes testing is an intervention. We should measure costs across all the years it has been in use and see whether it has achieved its aims. States have been obligated to test in 3rd through 8th grade every year since 2006. If we assume constant annual costs, then the high-stakes intervention so far has cost $11.9 billion (7 x $1.7b), certainly not a trivial amount.

Moreover, scores on “the nation’s report card,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress, are essentially flat over that period, showing little gain over time in either 4th grade or 8th grade reading or mathematics. In addition, the majority-minority gap in achievement-test scores remains at about 88 percent of what it was at the outset of the intervention. In other words, we have had a great dollar cost ($11.9 billion), to say nothing about other costs (curriculum narrowing, cheating, etc.), and practically zero benefit from the intervention.

When do we hold accountability accountable?

Murray Levine

Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus (Psychology)

State University of New York at Buffalo

Buffalo, N.Y.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 09, 2013 edition of Education Week as No Child Left Behind Testing Is An Expensive Intervention


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