Friday, July 26, 2013

State expects Common Core testing costs to be lower than national estimates

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

Kansas education officials say that when schools start giving new reading and math tests aligned to the Common Core standards in 2015, the cost of those tests will be higher than what the state is paying now—but not as high as some recent national reports suggest.

"We're expecting it to be more than what we're paying now because we're asking the assessment to do more,” Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said.

For the past several years, Kansas has contracted with the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at Kansas University to develop and administer all of its tests, including reading, math, science and social studies.

The state Department of Education spends about $4.6 million annually to administer those tests to about 250,000 students a year. The reading and math tests, which are required by federal law, are given each year to students in grades 3 through 8, and once in high school.

But those tests have always been pure multiple-choice tests that are quickly and easily scored by machines.

With the new Common Core standards, DeBacker said, states are being asked to use more complex tests that require students to write and do more.

“We've said for many years (the current test format) doesn't tell us what students know and can do,” DeBacker said. "It's just regurgitation of information. When you enhance a test or want to make it more relevant and informative, then you have to look at constructive responses. You have to look at a test that's more interactive, so students can be more engaged in the assessments. That's going to cost more money.”

Although the State Board of Education hasn't yet decided what test it will use in 2015, it did agree a few years ago to join the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a group of 22 states that is jointly developing one version of the tests.

In March, SBAC released its pricing list, estimating that its tests would cost states $22.50 per student for just the basic end-of-year test used for federal reporting, or $27.30 per student for a full package of year-end tests, plus quizzes and exams that teachers give throughout the year to keep track of their students' progress.

That would raise the annual cost in Kansas to about $11.2 million for the basic package, or $13.6 million for the enhanced package.

But DeBacker and others say that won't be the case because those estimates include not just the cost of the test itself — $6.20 each for the basic test, or $9.55 for the enhanced package — but a host of other costs that SBAC believes states will have to spend. State officials say those costs probably won't be necessary in Kansas, in many cases.

Among the additional costs to states, according to the SBAC estimate, is the cost of hiring an outside vendor to host a computer-based platform that students will log into in order to take the tests online. But DeBacker said the KU testing center already has built that for Kansas. It's called the Kansas Interactive Testing Engine, or KITE, and it was used this past spring to administer the entire 2013 round of assessments.

Marianne Perie, co-director of the KU center, said that no matter what test Kansas decides to use, CETE can still provide the administration service, and can still do it for less than what SBAC has estimated.

"Honestly, we're still not completely sure what's in their cost estimate,” she said. “We know that they are estimating our costs, but it'll probably be lower than that. We've been having our tech people talk to their tech people, and we're prepared to administer the new tests.”

Although Kansas is part of the Smarter Balanced consortium developing a test, the state is not obligated to use that test. DeBacker said testing company ACT Inc. also is developing new tests to align with the Common Core standards. The board also has the option of continuing to contract with the KU center to write the tests.

DeBacker said she expects the state board to decide which test Kansas will use before the end of the year.