Common-Core Assessment From PARCC Gets About 20 Percent Cheaper for States

By Andrew Ujifusa — May 02, 2014 2 min read
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Crossposted from the Curriculum Matters blog

by Catherine Gewertz

The PARCC testing consortium announced Friday that it has lowered the price of its common-core assessments by more than $5 per student.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College or Careers said its tests would cost, at most, about $24 per student, a significant drop from the initial projection of $29.50 per student. The new price is for the computer-based version of the tests, which debut next spring. The decrease means that for just over half of PARCC’s member states, the tests are more affordable than those the states currently use.

While the price has been lowered, the precise figure has not been finalized. Consortium officials said that the final price will be determined in part by the number of students who take the tests, information that’s an unknown until states make formal orders for the assessments.

As you can see below, the pricing structure has a few variables in it. The first is how many students end up taking the tests. PARCC’s price estimates fall into three categories, with the lowest price available in a “high volume” scenario, and the highest price accompanying a “low volume” scenario.

Prices also vary by grade band. Grades 3-8 are packaged as a math and English/language arts set, while PARCC’s high school end-of-course tests are packaged by individual subject, splitting the cost evenly between math and English/language arts.

Rolled together, it boils down to this: If uptake for the tests is low, states would pay about $24 per student for the assessments in grades 3-8, and $25 in high school. If uptake soars, those figures decline to about $19 and $20.

With all that in mind, here is PARCC’s pricing structure. It might be a bit easier to put the “volume” bands into better context if you keep in mind that there about 10 million students in grades 3-11 in the PARCC member states that still plan to use the consortium’s tests.

Another thing to notice about this pricing structure is that there’s a bigger price gap between the computer and paper-and-pencil versions of the exams. Initially, PARCC said states would pay a few more dollars per student for the transitional paper version. Now that differential is $9 in grades 3-8 and $5.50 to $7 in high school.

PARCC disclosed the new price structure as part of an announcement that Pearson and a team of subcontractors have won a major contract to do the next major phase of work on building the tests. (My colleague Sean Cavanagh will have more details on the contract and the negotiation over at the Marketplace K-12 blog.)

James Mason, the assessment director in Mississippi and a leader of the state team that negotiated the contract, said the $24-per-student price was reached after “very aggressive negotiating” with Pearson, which won the contract (and was the sole bidder).

That contract covers delivering and administering the tests, reporting the results, analyzing scores, and coordinating with states in the development of cut scores, all during the first four years of the test. It also includes writing items and building forms for Year Two of the tests.

The subcontractors on the new contract include the Educational Testing Service, WestEd, Measured Progress, and Caveon.

An earlier item-development contract, which covered the writing of the first 10,000-plus test items for Year One, depends on some of the same companies. Pearson and ETS are the two prime contractors, and Measured Progress is one of the subcontractors.

Associate Editor Sean Cavanagh contributed to this report.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.