5 things to know about the financial cost of testing

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

1. Pennsylvania’s Gov. Wolf has requested a total of $58.3 million for testing in the current budget.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education contracts with Data Recognition Corp. for the PSSAs and the Keystones. The contracts cover test development, administration, scoring, and reporting. In 2014-15, the company received about $30 million for the PSSAs – about $39 per student tested – and $27 million for the Keystones.

2. The actual costs of testing to districts and schools – including staff time, prep, and materials – are hard to estimate.

Districts and schools generally don’t separate out these costs. In Philadelphia, for example, assessment, curriculum, and instruction are combined in one department. The state also does not break out separate testing administration costs.

A recent report by the Council of the Great City Schools analyzed testing expenses for the 200,000-student Hillsborough School District in Florida and found the total to be $2.2 million, or 0.1 percent of the district’s annual budget.

The Council’s report cited a recent study by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution estimating that states collectively spend about $1.7 billion annually on standardized assessments – about $34 per student.

3. Districts generally don’t track the costs of test preparation activities as distinct from other instructional time.

Philadelphia District schools are supplied with materials to aid in teaching subjects that are tested, but they are given no special test preparation materials. Individual schools, however, may purchase materials and dedicate time strictly for test preparation.

4. Besides the PSSA and Keystones, the state mandates and pays for several other tests, targeted to specific groups.

These include the Kindergarten Entry Inventory for incoming students, the ACCESS tests for English language learners, and the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) for students with severe cognitive disabilities who cannot take the PSSA. Their cost per year, in state and federal funds, is roughly $7 million.

5. The federal government expects to spend $157 million this year on its one mandated test.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests a sample of students from every state to determine academic performance against a national standard.

In Philadelphia and 20 other urban districts, a random sample of students participates every other year in the NAEP’s Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA).