The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

One Way for Schools to Save Money and Better Serve Students

on June 7, 2017

One of the things we rarely—if ever—hear about is the cost of testing in both money and school time. In today’s blog I will give significant information about both costs as reported in a research study done by the American Federation of Teachers. The title of the report is “Testing More, Teaching Less; What America’s Obsession with Student Testing Costs in Money and Lost Instructional Time”

 In 2013 the American Federation of Teachers initiated a study of two medium size urban school districts, using the psuedodyms of “Midwestern School District” and “Eastern School District” to determine the costs of school testing and lost instructional time in a single year. To carry out the study the AFT gathered information on the assessment inventory and testing calendar from both districts. They also used the information from previous studies to compare their results to the practices in other states.

Some interesting results revealed that the District of Columbia spent the most on tests: $114 per student and New York, where test scoring is done locally spent $7 per student. Over all standardized testing cost the United States $1.7 billion a year.

Looking at the situation in the two school districts selected, researchers found that the time students spent taking tests ranged from 20 to 50 hours per year. In addition, students  would spend 60 to more than 110 hours per year in test prep in high-stakes testing grades. When the cost of lost instructional time (at $6.15 per hour, equivalent to the per-student cost of adding one hour to the school day), the estimated annual testing cost per pupil ranged from $700 to more than $1,000 per pupil in different grades. 

If student testing were abandoned altogether, one school district in this study could add from 20 to 40 minutes of instruction to each school day for most grades. The other school district would be able to add almost an entire class period to the school day for grades 6-11. In addition, in most grades, more than $100 per test-taker could be reallocated to purchase instructional programs, technology or to buy better tests. Just cutting testing time and costs in half would yield significant gains to the instructional day, and free up enough dollars in the budget to pay for tests that are better aligned to the school program and produce useful information for teachers, students and parents.

In my opinion the estimated savings in money and instructional time should be a game changer. In these times of ever shrinking school funding school districts ought to spend what they have on meeting the needs of students rather than on high stakes testing. When selecting any test a district should take the trouble to estimate what various commercial tests will cost per student and how much class time will be lost, and then go for the best economic choice.

Although selecting a test that seems to be of high quality and to fit well with school programs is a worthy objective, we must recognize that all commercial tests are designed on the premise of “One size fits all”.  We must also understand that to a great extent high stakes testing imposed upon school districts by the federal government is actually a sham and a punishment. It does not render a fair judgment on a school’s quality, improve teaching or learning, better serve students, or make our country do better on international tests. Although schools must play this game—for now—there is no reason why they should not choose the tactics that give them the best chance of winning it.

One response to “One Way for Schools to Save Money and Better Serve Students

  1. Doug Garnett says:

    Great to see other people are looking at this. The State of Oregon has always avoided this calculation (even in a state audit of high stakes testing) by the bureaucratic maneuver of only counting the out of pocket cost they pay test companies. A few years back I estimated that Oregon’s school budgets were losing $250M or more to high stakes testing.

    Thanks for posting. Great to see an independent organization doing the math that the states should have done long ago.

    As an aside, apparently in the Oregon legislature all bills are required to be evaluated for their cost within the state budget. But they are never evaluated for the impact they have draining money from district budgets.


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