States Say Bush Budget Shortchanges Testing
By Tiffany Danitz, Staff Writer
When state boards of education lobbyist was handed President George W. Bushs education budget at a briefing this week, he wanted to know one thing how much was the President willing to give states to develop tests for grades 3-8.
The answer: $320 million.
His reaction? "It is absolutely an under-funded mandate. It seems to me like they pulled a number out of the air," said David Griffith, a lobbyist for the National Association of School Boards of Education (NASBE).
Out of a $44.5 billion budget, states will get a one-time offer of $320 million to create tests that match state standards for reading and mathematics. Divided by 47 (three states already have these tests) that would be about $6 million per state.
"These funds will help ensure that all States have such assessments in place by the 2004-2005 school year," said Rod Paige, the US Secretary of Education.
"Not only is this insufficient funding but it just highlights the lack of understanding, the lack of analysis, the lack of appreciation for what states have done and are currently doing with assessments," said Griffith.
The President's signature education proposal, "No Child Left Behind," would require states to test every child in grades 3-8 in reading and mathematics. Only 15 states test those grades right now and of those only three states test in both subjects. All the same, this year it is costing states collectively more than $400 million to test far fewer grades and subjects. (see Special Report: States Pay $400 Million For Tests In 2001 )
"State lawmakers are going to eye the $320 million budget line and then the law requiring them to test every kid in grades 3-8 and think, "unfunded mandate," according to David Shreve, a federal policy analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
The testing that would be required won't allow states to buy off-the-shelf tests. Instead, states will have to have exams specially tailored to each state's standards criterion -referenced tests.
These exams are more expensive to develop and implement because states have to hire a bevy of people to research, write, update and correct the tests.
The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) is fitted to the state standards. The Bay State has a $71 million, five-year contract with test maker, Harcourt to develop hundreds of different versions of the test. This year, testing grades 4,8 and 10 (including field testing some students in grades 3,5,6,7) is costing the state $20 million.
"Our intention is to help them (states) do this," said Nina Shakorii Rees, an education advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney. Rees characterized the $320 million as generous.
At the winter meeting of the National Governor's Association (NGA), Maine Gov. Angus King argued that the education policy statement should include a plea for funding for exams. "Governors are accepting additional assessments and accountability, but without funding. Our willingness to accept those mandates should be contingent upon funding," King said.
Achieve, Inc. a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization set up by the governors and some corporate heads to track the progress of standards based reforms through the states, had also hoped for more than $320 million.
"Our fear is that this certainly will not cover all the dollars states will need to develop quality tests aligned to their standards," said Jason Weedon, a spokesman for Achieve, Inc.