Standardized Testing and the Common Core Standards: You Get What You Pay For?

Assessment costs have always been a political football given the controversy surrounding standardized testing, and that has only intensified with the debate over Common Core. Concerns about the cost of the consortia’s tests likely stem in part from a sense of uncertainty because the consortia have announced estimates, but not firm prices. States may be concerned that the price will go up, especially if states leave 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. This report tackles this question through an empirical analysis of the consortia’s cost estimates. By dividing per-student costs into the component that is the same regardless of the number of students (e.g., developing test questions) and the part that depends on the number of students (e.g., scoring essays), this report estimates how prices will change if the consortia continue to lose members. This analysis shows that the departure of a few states will have a minimal impact on cost. For example, the possible departure of Florida, PARCC’s second largest member, only means a per-student price increase of about 60 cents for the remaining states.

Content Comments 

This resource provides a very well-written, well-researched, and well-designed analysis of the cost implications of the forthcoming PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia assessments in mathematics and English Language Arts & Literacy. The analysis indicates that costs from defections are unlikely to be substantial in monetary terms and are unlikely to pose a serious threat to the existence of the consortia. In fact, two states that have left PARCC will be paying as much or more for their Pearson-developed ACT assessment. The author writes, "For either PARCC or SBAC to face any real cost-based threat from states dropping out, the political opponents of the Common Core would have to be successful in all of the states where they have been most active and in several additional states." He also suggests that states that are considering leaving their consortium would be wise to consider the emerging data, which indicate that taxpayers receive more return on their investment (both in monetary and quality terms) when states collaborate.