Assessment

States Spend Nearly Half-a-Billion On Testing

By David J. Hoff — March 14, 2001 3 min read
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States spend almost half-a-billion dollars a year on testing, according to a new estimate, and are bracing for additional costs if President Bush’s proposed education plan is enacted.

For More Information

“States Pay $400 Million for Tests in 2001,” from Stateline.org.

In a survey of 50 state education officials, stateline.org—a Web site that reports on state policy issues—found that states are spending $400 million in the current fiscal year to develop, administer, and score their current testing programs.

That cost is sure to go up if Congress passes President Bush’s education plan, which would require states to assess every student in grades 3-8 in reading and mathematics annually.

“I don’t think there’s any question that it will [increase],” Virginia Delegate James H. Dillard II, a Republican and the co-chairman of the education committee of the state House of Delegates, said of the cost of testing. “These tests are very, very expensive and take a long time to get on line.”

To estimate the amount states spend on testing, stateline.org surveyed every state education department and asked how much the state spends in “developing, issuing, and scoring” K-12 tests, according to Tiffany Danitz, the stateline.org staff writer who conducted the research. State spending ranged from nothing in Iowa, which has no statewide testing program, to $44 million in California.

To determine the exact cost of testing is difficult because each state accounts for spending on test development in different ways. But the $400 million estimate sounds “pretty good,” said Richard P. Phelps, a former official in the U.S. General Accounting Office who led a project nearly a decade ago to determine how much U.S. schools spent on testing.

That 1993 study, which counted state and school district spending, estimated the testing bill at $516 million. (“Testing Places Only a ‘Modest’ Burden on Students, G.A.O. Report Concludes,” Feb. 3, 1993.)

Paying the Bill

Fifteen states—including California and Florida—currently assess students in reading and math every year from the 3rd to the 8th grade, as Mr. Bush would require. Texas, the president’s home state, will spend $27.7 million on testing students in grades 3-8 and on its high school exit exams, according to the stateline.org survey. Florida is spending $22.4 million to test students in grades 3-10.

States that do not currently meet the president’s proposal spend considerably less. Oklahoma, for example, pays $2.5 million to assess students in the 3rd, 5th, and 8th grades.

State officials are wary of the costs they would incur to satisfy Mr. Bush’s proposed testing requirements. In recent weeks, the National Governors’ Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures have adopted policy statements saying that the federal government should underwrite the cost of any new testing it requires.

“We’re talking about an awful lot of funding that would be imposed on states,” said Mr. Dillard, who is the chairman of the NCSL’s committee on education, labor, and workforce development.

A bill approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee last week would authorize $400 million for fiscal 2002 to help states devise and implement the annual reading and math tests.

In addition, under the measure, states would not be required to meet the testing requirement in any year that the federal government failed to pay half the costs of administering the exams.

Worth the Cost

Mr. Phelps, the former GAO official, estimated that any additional cost would be about $150 million, a price he called worth the investment.

The $400 million spent on testing right now is about 0.1 percent of total government spending on K-12 education, said Mr. Phelps, who now is a senior study director for Westat, a Rockville, Md.-based education research group.

“It’s [the size of] a rounding error—a sum equivalent to what we spend on field trips,” he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as States Spend Nearly Half-a-Billion On Testing

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