Common Core test costs in Kansas seen as less than national estimates

07/27/2013 12:33 PM

07/27/2013 12:34 PM

Kansas education officials believe the cost of testing students on the new Common Core standards will be less than national estimates but more than what the state has currently been paying.

Kansas schools will start testing students on the Common Core reading and math standards in 2015. The standards were developed by a national consortium of states and other educational interests and adopted by Kansas in 2010.

The state spends about $4.6 million annually to give the current battery of tests to about 250,000 students a year. Kansas Department of Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said the cost of the Common Core-based tests will be below the national estimate of $11.2 million to $13.4 million because Kansas won’t use all the services offered by test developers.

“We’re expecting it to be more than what we’re paying now because we’re asking the assessment to do more,” DeBacker said.

Kansas has contracted with the Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation at the University of Kansas, and those tests have always been multiple-choice exams graded by machines. The new Common Core process asks states to use complex testing that includes more writing by students.

“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. … That’s going to cost more money.”

The State Board of Education has yet to decide what test will be used in 2015.

Critics of the Common Core who have urged the board to back out of using those standards are urging the state to continue to use the center’s examinations.

A few years ago, Kansas joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, comprised of 22 states developing a common testing document. The consortium estimated that a basic, end-of-the-year exam used to comply with federal reporting requirements would be $22.50 per student. A fuller package of tests that would include quizzes and exams would be $27.30 per student.

DeBacker and others say that cost reflects expenses, including hiring an outside vendor to host the computer-based testing, that Kansas won’t need to incur. Kansas already has that function through the KU testing center, known as the Kansas Interactive Testing Engine, which was used to administer the entire 2013 battery of state assessments.

Marianne Perie, co-director of the university center, said regardless of the test selected, the center can provide administrative services at a lower cost than the SBAC estimate.

“Honestly, we’re still not completely sure what’s in their cost estimate,” she said.

A legislative audit released in December 2012 estimated that it would cost Kansas school districts between $34 million and $63 million to implement the Common Core standards, with most of the expenses coming from teacher training and purchasing new classroom materials.

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