Summer Help in Math

** Do your children need outside help in math?
Have them take a free placement test
to see which skills are missing.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The WASL: A Tale of Hidden Costs

Updated February 5, 2009:

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:


Anonymous said...

You might add Pearson just purchased Harcourt Sept 29.

Best of luck, I'm no longer welcome in Washington, Indiana, or Michigan :)

Mentra che la speranza ha fior del verde - La Divina Commedia, Purgatoria III

Anonymous said...

So, what's your point? The high cost? Standarized testing is expensive.

Or are you against standardized tests (which, which again is expensive)?

I applaud your your tenacity in obtaining monetary amounts, but what's your point?

Laurie Rogers said...

Thank you for writing.

A great deal of money is spent on the WASL each year - much more than people realize and much more than they’re told about. Trying to find out the full costs wasn’t easy. After trying to get this information from state administrators, I was forced to get it through formal requests for public information. Even so, it took several months of waiting for them to pull the numbers together. It’s strange that I had to wait. You’d think that – considering the controversy over the WASL and the new contracts that were signed later this year – that information would have been handy.

Even then, the entire story wasn't forthcoming. I had to ask more questions about district costs at the district level, and I finally received information on the new WASL contracts exactly one day after the November elections. To the best of my knowledge, none of this information was ever disseminated in the media.

If the WASL produced what it should produce - which is public accountability - perhaps the millions spent on it would be worthwhile. But the WASL does not produce public accountability. Additionally, no one has to pass the WASL before 10th grade, and of the WASL’s four 10th-grade tests, students only have to pass two.

I’m not opposed to standardized testing. I believe in knowing what students have learned. But, structured as it is, the WASL is a waste of the students’ time, the taxpayers’ money and the districts’ resources. It’s a complete betrayal of the students, teachers, parents, districts and taxpayers.

Kids being kids said...

This information only reinforced what I've thought about the WASL for a long time and that is, it's not about the's about someone's greed or in this case a lot of people's greed.

Right now city's in Washington are faced with having to cut teachers due to budget cuts. We're severely top heavy in our "investment" in education and it's the students who suffer.

I'm a certified teacher who disagreed daily with the bureaucracy that I saw in my school and others. I quit my job in order to homeschool our two boys. I've never regretted that decision for a second.

Also, in regards to Anonymous - December 25...your comments expose your bias and the type of thinking that got us to this point in the first place.

Personally, I am against the WASL because I feel it is ineffective in evaluating our kids to affect change in instruction for classroom teachers, it's way too expensive, and the evaluation of test scores is not consistent (I was involved with grading the science portion on a test basis back in 2002-2003 and I saw it first hand.

I really appreciate this blog and people who are doing their darnedest to get this information out there because the media isn't doing it.

daryl-michelle said...

Excellent work! Here in Pittsburgh PA I had problems with Pearson's new EnVisionMath curriculum for K-6- a horrendous atrocity yet the best selling math program in the U.S. right now. It boasts of being aligned to the state standards, but if its used everywhere, how can that work out, if each state is independent? Apparently they are not, since our worthless state test, the PSSAs, uses examples from many other states in their literature. I was trying to see if Pearson is linked to our PSSA developer, Data Recognition Corp, when I found this blog. It is sadly obvious that these state tests are about the federal government controlling what our kids learn, and not at all about helping struggling kids/districts succeed. Now PA is going to implement High School graduation exams, as if all the other testing - including the PSSAs in 11th grade -are not enough. Its a complete waste of taxpayer money and I encourage you to keep going!

Mrs. Kuhn said...

I agree that it's troubling that OSPI has not attempted to fully calculate the costs of the exam and inform the public. Because the WASL has a lot of open-ended questions, it is much more costly to grade than a multiple choice test.
Now consider that this is only one state out of fifty, and each state is spending money developing their own curriculum and assessments (to varying degrees of success). It is so inefficient to have 50 states developing curriculum and assessments rather than one federal government. Furthermore, it results in curriculum chaos for students who move between states frequently.
We need to allow the federal government to develop a national curriculum!