By any measure, Washington State’s standardized tests (the WASL) are "spendy." Their true costs are tricky to figure. There are initial development costs and ongoing costs in management, printing, shipping, scoring and reporting. There are costs at the district, state and federal levels.
There are also costs in lost time for instruction and learning. As students take time to prepare and take the tests, they tend to not focus on new learning. Students who already passed the tests or some acceptable alternative might be left to themselves to study, work on other projects or sleep late.
On April 15, 2008, I submitted a request for public records, asking the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) for the WASL's total cost. On June 10, I received some of the data.
In state dollars, $106,034,379 was spent from 1995 to 2008 for just the WASL itself. In federal dollars, another $42,966,026 was spent from 2003-2008. These figures do not include the contracts, the Listening tests in 2002/2003 or alternatives to the WASL (such as the Segmented Math course or the collections of evidence). They also don’t include district costs; OSPI says that data isn't available.
But the data is available; someone just has to collect it. I asked Neil Sullivan, Spokane Public Schools executive director of finance, for this district’s WASL costs. He and district staff calculated direct per-student costs at about $4.60. Using this figure as a rough guideline, it amounts to an extra $4.7 million annually statewide. (Not included are indirect costs.)
OSPI estimated costs for the next four years at $114,991,939 and federal costs at $33,244,000. Again, these numbers are for just the WASL, and they exclude district costs. OSPI has estimated the 2007 per-test cost (for just the state share) at $17.77. Its June 11 figures put it at $17.05. (Either figure is a fraction of the total cost.)
On August 1, after more requests, OSPI finally gave me these costs:
· The WAAS: 2001-2005: $1,475,037; and from 2006-2012: $2,312,665
· The collection of evidence (COE): Three-year total: $5,692,000
· Contract to Riverside Publishing: $55.4 million over 5 years
· Contract to Pearson Educational Measurement: $78.2 million over 6 years
One day after the November 2008 elections, I finally received information on the five new testing contracts. They total $164.5 million over 4 years. Here’s the breakdown:
- $ 374,861 to Assessment and Evaluation Services for the period 8/1/2008 to 12/31/2010. The scope of work includes coordination of quality control work efforts.
- $131,193,205 to Data Recognition Corporation for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes testing operations, scoring and reporting, translations, teacher development.
- $ 8,388,699 to Educational Service District 113 for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes the Collection of Evidence (alternative to the WASL).
- $ 18,275,563 to Educational Testing Service for the period 7/21/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes assisting with work efforts associated with item and test development, and coordination of professional development.
- $ 6,592,350 to Measured Progress for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes the Washington Alternate Assessment System Portfolio.
I’ve looked on the OSPI Web site for the information about the five latest contracts. I’ve waited for it to be disseminated in the Washington media. It wasn't in the state superintendent's Nov. 21 State of Education address. I found out about the contracts because I gave OSPI a formal request for public information.
Essentially, OSPI signed away $164.5 million in taxpayer money on contracts the public has repeatedly said it doesn’t want. This might have been hubris. They might have felt locked into doing it. Or, it might have been a final, poisonous pill. Regardless, the contracts are signed. The money is committed. Unless the contracts can be broken, say goodbye to that money, folks.
In 2006, Dr. Donald Orlich, professor emeritus of the Science Mathematics Engineering Education Center at Washington State University in Pullman, estimated total direct costs of the WASL at about $207 million. Assuming that about 5% of the school year is spent on preparing for and administering the WASL, he estimated an additional $100 million spent annually on costs related to salaries and lost instruction and learning time. That was in 2006. There’s been a lot of money under the bridge since then.
In 2008, the Washington Education Association estimated annual costs (including district costs) at $114 million per year.
($100 million here, $100 million there – pretty soon you’re talking real money.)
The budget to administer the WASL in 2009 was set at $22 million, but in March 2008, the media reported that OSPI estimates had increased by $15 to $25 million, making the total cost in 2009 for just one year of tests to be anywhere from $37 to $47 million. Following public and legislative criticism, the state agreed to shorten some tests and cut back on open-ended questions, thus lowering the cost. As of June 11, OSPI estimated state costs for the WASL for the 2008-2009 school year at $32,614,000, plus $9,436,000 from the federal government.
(Again, not included are WASL alternatives or district costs.)
By the way, the second WASL contract went to Pearson Educational Measurement, which is part of Pearson Education, Inc., which offers math curricula, including Scott Foresman, Prentice Hall products, TERC's "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space," "MCP Mathematics," "Beyond Arithmetic," and "Connected Mathematics."
Ah, it’s good to be Pearson Education, Inc.
Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "The WASL: A tale of hidden costs." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/