Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems

In the coming years, states will need to make the most significant changes to their assessment systems in a decade as they implement the Common Core State Standards, a common framework for what students are expected to know that will replace existing standards in 45 states and the District of Columbia.  The Common Core effort has prompted concerns about the cost of implementing the new standards and assessments, but there is little comprehensive up-to-date information on the costs of assessment systems currently in place throughout the country. 

This new report by Matthew Chingos fills this void by providing the most current, comprehensive evidence on state-level costs of assessment systems, based on new data from state contracts with testing vendors assembled by the Brown Center on Education Policy.  These data cover a combined $669 million in annual spending on assessments in 45 states.

The report identifies state collaboration on assessments as a clear strategy for achieving cost savings without compromising test quality.  For example, a state with 100,000 students that joins a consortium of states containing one million students is predicted to save 37 percent, or $1.4 million per year; a state of 500,000 students saves an estimated 25 percent, or $3.9 million, by joining the same consortium.

Collaborating to form assessment consortia is the strategy being pursued by nearly all of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards.  But it is not yet clear how these common assessments will be sustained after federal funding for their development ends in 2014, months before the tests are fully implemented.  The report identifies a lack of transparency in assessment pricing as a barrier to states making informed decisions regarding their testing systems, and recommends that consortia of states use their market power to encourage test-makers to divulge more details about their pricing models.