K-12 Leaders Worried About Tech. Costs of Common-Core Testing

By Sean Cavanagh — December 18, 2012 3 min read
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The vast majority of states are moving toward implementing new tests to coincide with the Common Core State Standards. But major questions remain—perhaps the most pressing of which is who’s going to pay for the new technology needed to give those exams.

Education Week explored this topic in depth in a series of stories in our most recent edition of Digital Directions. In some states and local districts, questions about the costs of adopting technology to align with the common core are apparently causing school leaders some unease.

In Hamilton County, Tenn., home to Chattanooga, school officials have voiced worries that they’ll get stuck with a bill because of the state’s commitments to move to computer-based testing that meets the requirements of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, one of two consortia focused on creating new tests to match the commmon core.

In addition to having signed up for PARCC, the state’s commitment to move to more advanced testing technology can also be traced to its successful application for federal Race to the Top funds, and the promises it made in securing a waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.

The two testing consortia, the PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, have received $170 million and $160 million in federal grants to develop the common-core assessments, and once those assessments are ready, states will be expected to pay for them. But the size of states’ costs—and the extent to which they will get pushed down to the local level—is anyone’s guess.

The two consortia have said that items within their tests will require a variety of different responses (taking students well beyond the multiple-choice answers), and will be aimed at gauging students’ analytical and applied skills, as well as their content knowledge.

Those demands are likely to force states and districts to choose among a variety of tech options through which students will be allowed to take the tests.

[CORRECTION (11:30 a.m.): Douglas Levin, the executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, points out that both consortia have, in fact, issued direction to state and local official on technology and the common core, to a greater extent that I originally explained. He notes that the current tech guidance issued by both consortia do not allow smartphones, and would not allow some types of tablets.

The two consortia—which Levin says his group has been advising—are setting guidance for states and districts while keeping in mind a number of concerns, he noted. Those concerns include issues such as only allowing the use of devices that provide adequate test security, and setting device requirements that are sufficiently consistent - for instance, by requiring students to not have to scroll to be able to display the complete test item, as would occur on devices with smaller screens.

For state and local officials with questions about what might be required of them, the state tech directors’ association has published resources meant to guide them. The organization has also released a broader guide meant to help state and district officials who are grappling with various financial, technological, and related concerns surrounding implementation of the common core. The most recent guidance from the two consortia on technology are also posted online.]

In Tennessee, Hamilton County’s schools superintendent, Rick Smith, has questioned whether his district might get stuck with a big technology tab, and has called for state legislators to fund the costs of meeting the demands of the new tests, the newspaper reports.

The state’s department of education says it has no plans to ask districts for tech money, the newspaper reports. A leading state lawmaker, meanwhile, said it’s too soon to know who will cover which expenses. But he said the state’s rising health care costs will drain some money from school budgets, including those devoted to tech spending.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.