In order to address many states’ concerns over cost, Chingos analyzed the cost of assessments currently available from two state consortia funded by federal grants: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).

Thirty-three states currently belong to at least one of the consortia, both of which are developing math and ELA assessments for widespread use beginning in the 2014 school year.

According to his analysis, Chingos found that the costs of both CCSS assessments “are not far from the nationwide average of what states currently pay for their existing tests, but many states have expressed concerns about these costs, especially states that currently spend well below average.”

The cost of CCSS assessments

PARCC estimated that its computer-based end-of-year assessments will cost $29.50 per student and SBAC estimated that its computer-based end-of-year assessments will cost $22.50 per student.

Compare those costs to the average per pupil spending of $10,500, and that’s nothing more than a “drop in the bucket,” said Chingos.

“All of the Common Core assessments under consideration cost less than a single textbook,” he said.

“This $30 investment for student assessment is the tail that wags the $10,000 dog of student spending,” said Tom Loveless, Harvard Public Policy professor and Brookings Senior Fellow.

According to Chingos, concerns about the cost of CCSS assessments “likely stem in part from a sense of uncertainty because the consortia have announced estimates, not firm prices. States may be concerned that the price will go up, especially if states leaves the consortia, and that they will be left without an affordable alternative. Opponents of the Common Core may be hoping that the withdrawal of a few states from the common assessments will lead to the unraveling of the consortia”

However, Chingos’ study found that even if opposing states did leave the consortia, the price of assessments per pupil would only raise by cents.

For example, Florida state legislature leaders have called for the state to withdraw from PARCC due to cost concerns, although Chingos said existing data indicates Florida’s tests are more expensive than PARCC’s. Even if Florida left (the state is PARCC’s second-largest member), the per-student price would only increase by about 60 cents for the remaining states.

In general, Chingos found that if all of the states where political debate over the Common Core is most intense were to drop out of the consortia, costs would increase by no more than $2 or $3.

The report also noted that after an analysis of current state spending on assessments, many states would actually save money by keeping with the assessment consortia.

For instance, “a state with 100, 000 students would save 37 percent on testing costs by joining a consortium containing 1 million students. A state could realize those savings in the form of reduced expenditures on testing, or reinvest them in improvements to test quality,” said Chingos.

Regarding the difference between PARCC assessments and SBAC assessments, Chingos goes into great detail, but when comparing costs, he believes comparison may be meaningless.

“The published cost estimates suggest that SBAC’s tests are $7, or about 24 percent, less expensive per student than PARCC’s. However, uncertainty about the assumptions underlying these estimated renders such a comparison nearly meaningless.” Read more in the report.

Chingos is quick to note, however, that the cost comparison does not factor in the costs of any technology upgrades that are needed in order for schools to be ready to deliver computer-based tests, “a factor that will vary by school,” he explained.

(Next page: The other options besides consortia)