The 45 states included in the study spent a combined $669 million a year on primary assessment contracts, with per-pupil spending ranging from $13 to $105 for assessments for third- to ninth-grade students. Georgia spent $14.
“We find that larger states tend to spend substantially less, per student, than smaller states, which is not surprising given that larger states save on fixed costs like test development by spreading them over more students and may have more bargaining power,” Matthew Chingos of the Brown Center wrote in the report. “This relatively low level of spending on assessment, combined with concerns that the quality of tests in many states is not high enough to use them for high-stakes purposes such as teacher evaluation, strongly suggests that states should seek efficiencies in order to absorb budgets cuts without compromising test quality or to free up resources that could be reinvested in upgrades to assessment systems.
“A clear strategy for cost savings suggested by our data is for states to collaborate on assessments so as to share the fixed costs of test and item development over larger numbers of students. Our cost model predicts substantial savings from collaborating on assessments. For example, a state with 100,000 students that joins a consortium of states containing one million students saves an estimated 37 percent, or $1.4 million per year; a state of 500,000 students saves 25 percent, or $3.9 million, by joining the same consortium.”
Chingos addressed the Common Core standards in the 42-page report, titled “Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems.” This is the first year ninth graders will have to meet the standards, with the intent to “provide a consistent framework to prepare students for success in college and/or the 21st century workplace.”
“The Common Core effort has prompted concerns about the cost of implementing the new standards and assessments, especially in states that have historically spent very little on their tests,” Chingos wrote. “Unfortunately, there is little comprehensive up-to-date information on the costs of assessment systems currently in place throughout the country. This report seeks to fill this void by providing the most current, comprehensive evidence on state-level costs of assessment systems, based on new data gathered from state contracts with testing vendors. ...The most current and comprehensive publicly available data on state spending on assessments were collected by the Common Core assessment consortia, [the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and Partnership and the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers], through surveys of their member states in 2010.
“The SBAC states reported spending between $7 and $123 per student on their math and ELA assessments. For the vast majority of states, these numbers are substantially more than spending almost 10 years earlier but still represent a small share of overall expenditures.”
As states face less federal funding for areas of education, Chingos said the price of Common Core assessments likely will be carried by the state as well, citing the federal Common Core grant will in September 2014, at least six months before the first operational tests are administered.
“It is not yet clear how participating states will share the cost of sustaining the consortia assessments, or whether the federal government will provide additional support for this effort,” Chingos wrote. “What is clear is that states that currently have inexpensive assessments will be under pressure to spend more to pay for the ongoing costs of the consortia assessments.
“For example, SBAC currently estimates that its summative assessment will cost about $20 per student. This amount is less than many SBAC states currently report spending, but represents a cost increase for six states. These states will have to decide whether the benefits of their continued participation are worth the increase in costs.”
Georgia is one of those six states.