Report: States Cannot Choose Cost Over Quality in Common Core Assessments

New costs don't stray far from the current national average, but for some states it's a jump in price.

High school students testing in a classroom at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J.
By + More

The Common Core State Standards have caused an uproar in some states, due to a perceived federal overreach into education policy, difficulties training teachers to adjust to the new standards and costs associated with developing and administering tests that fit the more rigorous curriculum guidelines. But a new report from the Brookings Institution shows the cost of the new tests is not far from what most states already spend per student, and won't increase significantly, even if more states leave two groups developing the tests for the majority of schools.

[READ: States Lack Funds, Resources to Implement Common Core]

Currently, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the voluntary math and English language arts standards, which should be fully implemented by the 2014-15 school year, coinciding with assessments aligned with the standards. And most of those states plan to use computer-based assessments developed by two consortia: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, at a cost of $29.50 and $22.50 per student, respectively.

But as some states (Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Utah) have dropped out of the consortia, citing the cost of the tests as a reason, there is a growing concern that test costs will go up as consortia membership decreases. The total cost of the tests come from fixed administrative costs associated with developing, administering and scoring the tests, and a variable amount that depends on the number of students taking those tests. If the number of students goes down, theoretically, the cost of the tests could go up.

Although the costs are not far from the current national average of $27 per student, spending on state assessments is of particular concern to some states that already spend less than the national average, such as Georgia, which has historically spent $14 per student, according to the Brookings report, written by Matthew Chingos. But because the variable costs of the tests make up a smaller portion of the overall cost, Chingos argues the total cost of the test would likely not change much if more states leave the PARCC and SBAC consortia.

"It is easy to understand why assessment costs receive a great deal of attention given the controversy surrounding standardized testing and the budgetary pressures that states have been facing for several years," Chingos writes. "At the same time, states must not be penny wise and pound foolish."

[POLL: Majority of Teachers Support Common Core]

By analyzing the fixed and variable costs of developing, administering and scoring the two consortia's assessments, Chingos found that costs would only increase by a few dollars per student if more states were to leave the consortia. While those numbers add up in states with hundreds of thousands of students, it's just a drop in the bucket, considering the fact that states on average spend a total of $10,500 annually to educate each student. It would be unwise, Chingos writes, to adopt a lower quality assessment to save a few dollars per student.

In the PARCC consortium, for example, three states containing about 1.6 million students have withdrawn. Chingos estimates that the tests will now cost about 50 cents more per student. Recently, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, has pressured the state government to withdraw from PARCC, although his concerns are with a perceived federal overreach into education policy. Although the Common Core standards are a state-led effort, they have the strong support of the federal government.

"We agree that we should say 'yes' to high standards for Florida students and 'no' to the federal government's overreach into our education system," Scott said in a Sept. 23 statement. "We are committed to maintaining high standards for our students. Period."

In July, Georgia announced its decision to withdraw from PARCC, opting to develop its own assessments.

"Assessing our students' academic performance remains a critical need to ensure that young Georgians can compete on equal footing with their peers throughout the country," Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. "Georgia can create an equally rigorous measurement without the high costs associated with this particular test. Just as we do in all other branches of state government, we can create better value for taxpayers while maintaining the same level of quality."