Beyond consortia

Outside of the two consortia, ACT is launching its own CCSS assessment system called Aspire in the spring of 2014.

Aspire will include a suite of “yearly tests in English, math, reading, science, and writing in grades 3-10 that is being billed as linked to the ACT exam (and ACT’s college-readiness standards) and aligned to the Common Core,” according to the report.

So far, Alabama has committed to using Aspire and received an “early-adopter” price of $11.70 per student. ACT expects to eventually charge $20 per student for the computer-based version and $26 for the paper-and-pencil version.

Though both Kentucky and New York are members of PARCC, Kentucky has a contract with Pearson at a cost of about $30 per student to fast-track CCSS assessment in the next year or so. That price is $37 per student, to include science and social studies tests, as well as additional item development in math and reading, for the 2013-14 year.

New York has a five-year contract with Pearson (through 2015) at a cost of about $5 per student; however, the contract does not include printing, shipping, or scoring costs. According to the report, the state assessment office estimates a cost of about $13 per student once printing and shipping costs are included.

It’s important to note that scoring is a local responsibility in New York, paid for by individual school districts, so the $13 figure “cannot be compared to the estimated costs of the SBAC, PARCC, and ACT or Kentucky tests, which include scoring costs,” Chingos said.

Where to go from here

According to Chingos, states should try not to concern themselves so much with cost as much as the quality of the assessments. (Chingos goes into great detail about four design principles that should be a part of quality assessments. Read more here.)

“[States] ought to care about the quality of the measures used for such high-stakes decisions, such as whether to close a school or whether to fire a teacher,” he explained. “It seems short sighted to accept a significant decrease in test quality in order to save $10 or $20 per students in the context of an education system that spends more than $10K per pupil.”

Chingos recommends that state policymakers should support state-led efforts to form consortia and stick together so that high quality assessments are affordable and sustainable. Also, states need to gather good information on test quality in order to justify their spending on assessments.

The report also recommends that Congress should amend No Child Left Behind (NCLB) so that part of the federal education funding must be spent on assessments.

“Without any increase in total spending, Congress could set a minimum amount per students that must be spent on assessments, with the minimum chosen to reflect policymakers’ view as to the cost of high-quality assessments,” said Chingos.

He concluded: “It is too early to tell which path will be the best choice for students, but two facts are clear: taxpayers get more bang for their buck when states collaborate, and students cannot afford for policymakers to compromise on assessment quality.”

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