• Author Rachel Rich

Testing Now Outstrips Learning!

Since Smarter Balanced was introduced in 2010, Oregon’s testing expenses have exploded from $3.5 to $616 million! Yet spending on key student services is up by only $1 million! To top it off, now the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) wants to add monthly tests! This runs contrary to budget needs, audits of the test's value and students’ learning needs. The legislature must stop this before the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) test contract expires this spring.

Oregon’s testing expenses have exploded from $3.5 to $616 million! Yet spending on key student services is up by only $1 million!

In a recent audit mandated by HB 2713, the ODE falsely claimed that SBAC costs the state only $11 million. School districts bear costs for their own hardware, software, substitutes for setting up and proctoring, records management, tech services, increased bandwidth, etc. A comparison of school budgets from to 2010 to 2014 shows districts increased their own test-related expenditures by at least $86 million or an average of $22 million a year. To extrapolate, seven years at an average of $22 million annually total $154 million.

The ODE 2014 American Institutes of Research (AIR) contract shows the test itself costs $27.5 million annually for per-pupil fees, annual consortium dues, scoring, reporting, data storage and help desks. By contrast, the old test, the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills or OAKS, totaled only $3.5 million a year. The new test, the SBAC, was developed and tried out in small groups since 2010, and then piloted statewide in 2013. Four years of full implementation total $110 million.

An ODE 2009 grant application to develop SBAC details ballooning ODE test personnel, training and infrastructure costs at $202 million. The grant expired in 2014, but expansion costs continue. Three years at an average of $50 million annually totals $150 million. Added to previously noted costs, that’s $414 million out of pocket plus $202 million. absorbed by a grant. We maintain a $616 million testing system!

Oregon’s testing expenses have exploded from $3.5 to $616 million!

The Deputy Superintendent in his audit mandated by HB 2713, concedes dozens of problems with SBAC and even admits “other tests may be more appropriate.” SBAC report cards don’t show if students master specific skills or standards, like fractions, but only if they meet vague goals like “Claim #2 – Students must solve a range of complex, well-posed problems.” He admits this can’t help teachers teach or students learn, but only ranks schools. So why double-down with additional flawed tests? Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) law allows states to choose other assessments, as most states already have.

Buying extra tests also blatantly ignores the other audit. The HB 2680 audit by teachers, parents and administrators cites even more test dysfunctions and specifically asks the state NOT to jump into purchasing additional SBAC products. The ODE even dodged full teacher input with its survey on school leadership and Common Core, never mentioning SBAC or state mandated tests – the audit topic!

The bottom line? The nationally respected NAEP scores, by which all other tests are measured, show flat achievement and widening demographic gaps. Some SBAC items are up to five years above grade level. The complicated computerized format is also an egregious obstacle to those without home computers for practice, special education students, English Language Learners, and the very young. Any SBAC gains may be due to greater familiarity with the format, since results aren't confirmed by outside measures.

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Comparison of Statewide Budget Items for

Student Services and State Testing 2010 -- 2014

In 2010 Ron Saxton priced OAKS computerized standardized tests at $3.5 million. Next, Smarter Balanced was implemented in addition to OAKS Science, the ELPA and kindergarten exams, leading to an explosion of state mandated standardized testing expenses at the cost of programs that directly benefit students.

A comparison of school budgets before and after Smarter Balanced shows test-related expenditures borne by the districts themselves rose by $86 million from the start of test development to the last year of complete budget records: 2010-14. In addition, over the same four years, the ODE underwent massive expansion in personnel, training and infrastructure to the tune of $202 million. Accordingly, the ODE bill for test fees jumped from $3.5 to $27.5 million annually. Yet, the state increased key student services by only half a million, barely keeping up with inflation. Sadly, psychological services, Title I reading assistance, and talented and gifted programs lost $7 million, while teacher professional development unrelated to testing dropped by $11 million. Testing expenditures are now grossly out of proportion to funds spent on learning.

Budget items for key student services:

1113 – Elementary extra-curricular $50,059

1122 – Middle school extra-curricular $3912

1132 – High school extra-curricular $160,875

1140 – Pre- K $226,488

1210 – Talented and Gifted - $196,181 loss

1220 – Restrictive programs for disabled $442,655

1250 – Less restrictive programs for disabled $1,006,129

1260 – Early Intervention (SPED) $974,795

1271 – Remediation $518,935

1272 – Title I -$6,228,523 loss

1291 – English Language Learners $467,229

1400 – Summer school $4120

2130 – Health services $691,049

2120 – Guidance services $1,560,981

2140 – Psychological services - $376,844 loss

2150 – Speech pathology and audiology $919,983

2190 – Services Directions and Student Support $285,341

Statewide gain 2010-14: Total $505,003

Test related expenditures borne by districts

2210 – Improvement of instruction – typically PD for SBAC. $4,084,000

2660 – Technology services – now typically for testing $14,430,357

2240 – Staff development (paid) typically for testing

(Test focused staff mtgs. not included) $982,613

2630 – Information Services - manage increased SB data $1,500,554

2230 – Assessment and testing - beyond state mandated tests $614,948 Records management $93225

121 – Substitutes-licensed – act as proctors $3,887,787

122 – Substitutes-classified – prepare for and proctor tests $2,594,894

470 – Computer software – system updates for testing $26,804,376

480 – Computer hardware - additional computers

(offset by grants) - $1,095,277

380 – Technical services - typically for testing $8,262,137

390 – Other tech. services - typically for testing $23,896,065

310 – Non-test-related professional development

statewide loss: -$10,830,571

Statewide gain 2010-14: Total $86,055,679

Costs to classroom FTE on course offerings, school personnel shifted upward to the ODE and sideways to school test coordinators, data managers, etc., further increasing class size and reducing electives is as of this date undetermined.

Based on annual averages, estimated state mandated standardized testing costs since 2010 are $414-616 million!

There are many hidden costs to the SBAC, a test that has not been confirmed by any independent study to be valid or reliable . Many more cost concerns were voiced by parents before the "official" audit took place. You can read about them here at Audit the SBAC -- Parent Voices.


For source materials contact Rachel Rich at rbeckley58@gmail.com


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