Bush Test Plan Could Cost States $7 Billion, Group Says
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
The Bush education budget requested $320 million for states to develop reading and math tests for grades 3-8 that are aligned to each state's standards (see States Say Bush Budget Shortchanges Testing ).
Bush's proposal has been folded into pending legislation reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the major source of federal funds for schools.The House version is identical to his request for test development; the Senate version authorizes $400 million.
US Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn) said in a Senate floor speech Tuesday (4/24), "What we have from the president is a tin cup budget for education. If we are going to have this mandate on all the states to do all this testing, there has to be money."
Lindsey Kozberg, a spokesperson for the US Department of Education, denied that Bush's plan amounts to an unfunded mandate."The president's plan marks the first time the federal government has tried to take an active role in funding development," she told Stateline.org.
Kozberg noted that states have been required to test Title 1 students (impoverished students that get the majority of federal funding) since 1994, but no funding was given to states then.
"We are looking at $800 to $900 million per state for the first years of development and they are proposing $320 million total?" David Griffith, Government Affairs Director for NASBE asked rhetorically. "When states require districts to test, we pay for it, but that is not the mindset at the federal level. They require tests that they are not willing to pay for."
NASBE is a non-partisan association of members of state boards of education and state education agencies.
Using figures gleaned from testing companies to make projections, researchers considered costs per student to develop tests, administer, score and breakdown student performance data and store it in accordance with the Bush proposals. NASBE says the minimum cost to develop tests would be $25 per pupil and the maximum is $125. Development costs would be a one-time expense. But the cost to administer, score and store data on the test would be an annual cost of $25 to $50 per student, it says.
"We had to do this analysis because the White House and Congress weren't talking about how much it will cost states and they showed no interest in trying to figure these numbers out," Griffith told Stateline.org .
According to NASBE, 21,582,814 students are enrolled in grades 3-8 in the United States. It says the total minimum cost to develop the tests is $539,570,350 and total maximum is $2,697,851,750. For administering the test, the total minimum is $539,570,350 and total maximum is $1,079,140,700, but spread over the seven year life of ESEA, the maximum could run up to $7 billion.
Wayne Martin, director of state assessments center for the Chief State School Officers (CSSO) said his organization has been estimating the cost to be between $45 and $50 per student.
"The concern that many of us have is that this cost might be so staggering that some states will be tempted to use an off-the-shelf test which don't fit state standards that well. There is no easy way around this. This is just a very expensive proposition," he said.
Only 15 states test reading and math in grades 3-8 and among those, only 7 have tests aligned to their standards. Among the seven states, only three break down test results by ethnicity, gender and socio-economic background as the Bush plan would require.
NASBE based its projections on the "accepted cost scale of developing and administering (scoring and reporting results) of assessments." They used student enrollment from the 1999-2000 school year. Since administration is an ongoing expense, it was calculated through the 2008 school year when ESEA will next be up for reauthorization, according to NASBE.