The cost per student for the new test to measure progress under Common Core is nearly 50 per cent more than the AIMS test, causing sticker shock among some lawmakers and advocates for the learning standards.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, announced this week after years of developing the test it will cost $29.50 per student. Arizona paid $18 to $20 per student depending on the grade to give the AIMS test to 750 students in the 2012-13 school year.
Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, chair of the House Committee on Education, said the cost isn’t out of line considering the massive amount of development that went into it and that it no longer consists of simply filling in a bubble-sheet. But she thinks the per-student increase will make the test unaffordable when multiplied by the number of students who will be taking it.
“The state I don’t believe could afford that kind of accelerated cost on assessments,” Goodale said.
The cost to test with PARCC would be between $7.1 million and $8.6 million more, assuming the same number of students who took AIMS last year take the new test.
The Department of Education is going full-steam ahead in implementing the new test, however, after the cost came in lower than the department anticipated, and staff is now preparing a decision proposal for the governor’s office.
“It’s somewhat of a relief, it’s still high, but it’s somewhat lower than what we were bracing ourselves for,” said Leila Williams, who is overseeing the implementation of the new test. “There’s not a discussion yet to abandon it.”
Williams’ boss, Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal, a Chandler Republican, serves on the PARCC governing board.
Andrew Wilder, spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, said in an email that replacing AIMS with a more accurate and meaningful test has been a key pillar in her Education Reform Plan.
Brewer is considering the costs and benefits as she develops her spending priorities.
Any new test will also have to be vetted through the procurement process.
Goodale said the discussion will now have to be about looking for alternatives.
“Those dialogues will start now that we have some concrete figures we can deal with,” Goodale said. “We do have alternatives. We will do everything we can to seek alternatives for the assessment tool.”
Sen. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, who chairs the Senate Committee on Education, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Dr. Tim Ogle, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association, said PARCC’s per student cost concerned him when it was first announced, but he’s relieved Huppenthal is planning on implementing it.
The association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials estimated based on surveys of school districts that it would cost $156.6 million to implement Common Core in the 2013-14 school year. The estimated costs were for training, curriculum materials and textbooks, but the new hard figure for PARCC means the estimate will increase significantly, said the association’s spokeswoman Tracey Benson.
Gov. Jan Brewer asked for $61 million to implement the standards and technology for the new test in her fiscal year 2013-14 spending plan, but the Legislature provided no dollars for either.
Rep. Chester Crandell, R-Heber, who opposes the use of PARCC, also said he doesn’t think the state can afford the cost increase.
He would prefer the state seriously consider using college placement tests to measure student progress in K-12.
“We’ve got assessments that are given for nothing and being paid for by the universities and the colleges,” Crandell said. “If they’re already bearing the burden on that why are we looking down the road to do something different.”
Crandell said the assumption is that PARCC has to be adopted to make Common Core worthwhile.
“You can teach the standard, but you can use any assessment to determine whether a student can read, write or do math,” he said.
House Speaker Andy Tobin said he always expected the new test would be more expensive considering it will be more in-depth and factoring in inflation.
Tobin said, however, savings of $20 million to $30 million can be figured in because the state didn’t develop the test, a consortium did.
Tobin said he can’t say yet whether the state can afford the new test until the issue is brought up in session and debated on the floor.
Goodale introduced legislation in the 2013 session to eliminate AIMS and adopt a new test. Although PARCC isn’t specifically named in the legislation, it has been presumed the State Board of Education would adopt it. Her legislation stalled in the Senate after Common Core opponents, mostly from the Tea Party, made themselves heard, but another version of the bill eventually passed both chambers and was signed into law.