Federal Opinion

Tests over Teachers in California

By Anthony Cody — April 25, 2011 7 min read
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My recent dialogue with the Department of Education after President Obama acknowledged that we have gone overboard with standardized tests revealed that, in fact, there are plans to actually expand the number of mandated tests. Though we have heard a great deal about the $350 million the Dept of Ed is investing in the development of new tests, we have heard nothing about what these new tests will cost to administer, score or prepare for. As our collapsing state budgets result in increased class sizes, shuttered school libraries and the elimination of frills like music and foreign language classes, we must examine every education dollar critically. With these expenditures, our policymakers are choosing tests over teachers.

I recently asked some colleagues about how much we are currently spending on testing in California. I got this response from Joe Lucido, a teacher in Fresno, who shared the following. This, it should be noted, is before the expansions being planned by the Department of Education.

From Joe Lucido:

The state education budget gives the costs over the last three years which is helpful and really informing, although I am just giving you the upcoming year’s numbers; (note: the numbers in the document are in “thousands”, so you add three zeroes to the end of the number, which makes it actually millions.) Following this is a piece written by state policy consultant Jo Ann Rupert Behm; it breaks the CAHSEE costs down even more. The PDF of the Education Dept. budget can be downloaded here.

Now, you can use your “find” or “search” option on your computer to find each of these sections of within the budget:

6110-113-0001 STAR testing $74,485,000

6110-204-0001 CAHSEE Instructional support (test prep!!) $58,314,000

204 Budget Act Appropriation $72,752,000 ----(the actual CAHSEE test; notice how they made cuts in that the two previous years, but none for the upcoming)

The total using these figures would then be $205,551,000 PER YEAR, FOLKS!!! And that’s just what’s printed in the budget; there are hidden costs in the CAHSEE that Jo Ann talks about below. We need to be mailing our representatives THIS information to help them make cuts.

I believe anyone should be able to do this with any state’s budget. Just go to that state’s overall budget and find the “education” budget. Start going line by line---you’ll find it.

Here is a more detailed analysis of the California High School Exit Exam, prepared by Jo Ann Behm.

The California high school exit exam [CAHSEE] has been an economic and social disgrace from the onset---trumping 2,000 days, and nearly 16,000 hours spent in K-12 classrooms where students take 30-40 high school courses and must pass 13 state mandated year-long courses earning 220-270 credits to graduate.

Abolishing the exit exam as a graduation requirement -- considered in recent budget talks but shelved -- would have meant only testing around 475,000 sophomores once and compiling those scores to compare schools and districts as the No Child Left Behind [NCLB] Act requires -- instead of mixing uses for graduation eligibility. Now, as many as 225,000 juniors and 125,000 besieged seniors remain strapped to the exit exam taking monotonous CAHSEE remediation programs in lieu of valuable electives, extracurricular activities, internships or jobs. Some re-test as many as eight times during high school---five times during their frantic senior year!

The 1999 Senate Bill 2X authored by then Senator, and subsequently State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell allocated $2 million to develop the exit exam. Now Californians easily shell-out over $550 million a year to administer, defend, tutor, and teach to the CAHSEE beginning in 7 th grade.

Here’s how it adds up. The $1 million [Senate Bill 964] report delivered April 2005 advised postponing the diploma penalty for students with disabilities but was summarily ignored by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and State Board. Today another million dollar stakeholder panel [Assembly Bill 1040] is being convened to generate yet another report on CAHSEE alternatives for special ed students. Meanwhile starting in 2006 $56.4 million a year is awarded to help special ed seniors pass CAHSEE. $72.4 million a year gives general ed seniors additional CAHSEE tutoring. Add $5.5 million for intervention materials and $2.5 million for revised workbooks. Raising the number of times seniors can re-take CAHSEE from 3 to 5 times added $5.1 million. $275 million is spent yearly for “focused” CAHSEE tracking and test prep starting in 7 th grade for poor testers identified through STAR tests. The CAHSEE office at the California Department of Education [CDE] with a staff of 7 costs an estimated $2 million. The independent contract including travel to/from Virginia to deliver glowing CAHSEE reports to the State Board 2-3 times a year costs about $3 million. Educational Testing Service has a 3-year contract for $55.1 million to produce and score the CAHSEE. At least $10 million from taxpayer coffers has been sunk defending and settling the exit exam against four class action lawsuits.

There is a lot of waste too. School officials reported to the State Board in May 2007 that over $920,000 worth of exams had to be shredded because students who failed earlier never returned to retest.

Even more eye-popping, Adult Education bill [AB 2532] analysts estimated during an August 2006 Appropriations Committee hearing that non-credit test prep courses for “continuation” seniors denied diplomas [due to CAHSEE] would cost taxpayers $33.5 million for every 12,000 rejected graduates entering Adult Ed. In 2006, 25% or 12,000 out of the 48,000 seniors denied diplomas were expected to enroll.

In 2008 and 2009 CAHSEE casualties shot up toward 60,000 because diploma track seniors with disabilities were no longer exempted. The new budget deal at least releases special education students from the CAHSEE graduation requirement in 2010 [unless Supt. O’Connell overturns this]. Sadly, by then close to a quarter million shafted seniors since 2006 could be on the streets barely employable without a diploma unless they are one of the lucky ones who endure Adult Ed and pass. This new subclass will outnumber the population of 32 California counties.

This outrageous sacrifice of human and economic capital is driving California schools further in the hole financially while discouraging quality learning and durable school reforms.

Jo Ann Rupert Behm, M.S., RN
State & Federal Public Policy Consultant

Joseph Lucido has taught fifth grade for twelve years in Central Unified School District at Liddell Elementary, a two time California Distinguished School winner. He is the science lead for the site and has been a part of the CaMSP Math Lesson Study cohort for three years. He co-founded Educators and Parents Against Testing Abuse in Fresno, CA eight years ago after being concerned about the devastating impact that high stakes testing was having on students nation wide.

JoAnn Rupert Behm, RN, M.S. is a graduate of Florida State University and the University of Arizona and a Viet Nam era 1st Lt. USAF. Beginning in 1975 she was founder and president of a national continuing education company for nurses. In the early ‘90’s she turned to non-profit volunteering to assist families of students with disabilities navigate K-12 education in California public schools, becoming state president of the Learning Disabilities Association of California 2000-2002 and Public Policy Chair and State Coordinator of LDA’s Healthy Children Project until 2007. For the past decade she has served on the federal governmental affairs committee of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates [COPAA]. As a tireless advocate in California and Washington D.C. she began to recognize the irrefutable and often irreversible harm inflicted mostly on students with disabilities, minorities, English language learners, and low-income students due to high stakes exit exams. Jo Behm brought the first class action lawsuit against California challenging the California High School Exit Exam in 2001 and was instrumental in legislation and expert testimony to postpone the graduation penalty for students with disabilities in 2006 and 2007 and 2010 indefinitely. She has spoken before the state legislature and halls of the U.S. Congress countless times and presented at multiple state and national forums in efforts to abolish graduation exit exams in California and the U.S.

What do you think? What is being spent on tests in your state? Are these testing programs worth the money being spent on them?

The opinions expressed in Living in Dialogue are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.