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Perspective on Smarter Balanced Assessment Costs
09 Aug 2013

A couple weeks ago, we wrote about the budget implications for states participating in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the two federally funded consortia creating assessments aligned to the Common Core. That post received some positive feedback, so we decided to do a similar analysis of the budgetary costs (or savings) for states participating in the other group, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Smarter Balanced will have two options for states: a basic and a complete system. The basic system covers all of the summative tests required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and costs states $22.50 per student. According to the estimates released by Smarter Balanced, the basic system would reduce testing costs for two-thirds of its member states. The complete system, which includes summative, formative, and interim assessments, costs states $27.30 per student but would still reduce costs for more than half of the participating states.

For the purpose of this post, we will focus on the basic tests. As with PARCC, the savings, or costs in some cases, vary quite a bit based on the state. The table below uses Matthew Chingos’ November 2012 estimates for the Brookings Institution to illustrate how much each member state could save or lose under Smarter Balanced. It includes the latest member list from Smarter Balanced itself (although it excludes Connecticut, Iowa, South Carolina, U.S. Virgin Islands, West Virginia, and Wyoming, which do not have comparable testing cost figures available; and it also does not include any costs for states or schools to upgrade their technology infrastructure).

The table shows that, for 13 states, Smarter Balanced is a net savings, while seven states will likely see a rise in testing costs. If you add up all the savings and costs and look at all of the states in the aggregate, the consortium stands to save over $9.5 million collectively.

State budgets aren’t collective, of course, so the individual state numbers are important. While Washington would save the most at more than $20 million annually, there is a large drop off after that; the median savings is more than $2 million annually. On a per-student basis, Michigan would save about $0.57 per student, while Hawaii, Alaska, and Delaware all stand to save more than $50 per student.

Looking to the seven states that would see increases, California would see the highest overall increase in costs at almost $21 million. This may sound like a large figure, but it’s worth considering it against the fact that California spends $68.5 billion on K-12 schools. California’s state government share is $37.7 billion, so, with $74.5 million in assessment fees, Smarter Balanced is asking California to spend a grand total of 0.2 percent of its state education budget on assessments.

Smarter Balanced is aiming to provide computer-adaptive tests aligned to the Common Core that will accurately measure student progress and readiness for college or a career. For now, we must wait to see whether states see the value in that or whether the costs will prove too steep.

This piece was co-authored by Bobby Dishell, a Bellwether intern and University of Michigan student.

Photo Credit: Martin Shields, Getty Images



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What about the additional tech costs? Smarter-Balanced website has a realllllllly hard to discern group of statements about this. They contend most districts will be able to give these tests using existing computers they have.... Really? I find this unlikely. I could easily imagine a scenario where a districts $22 per kid goes to $100 per kid b/c of need to buy hardware, software licenses, and I.T. staff... Have you dug on this? Would be happy to learn that you have; I hope my nose is wrong in detecting the pungent odor of: disaster.

You completely miss the point. What is the cost of providing the support necessary to teach those stands in inner city schools? This is the same oversight as with NCLB. The tests and pd are a small tip of the iceberg. What does it cost to create schools where that level of teaching and learning is possible? The costs of THAT would be tens of billions, at least. But, if you don't invest in changing realities in schools, what the point of upgrading standards and assessments? If ALL of the money from SIG, RttT, and the other test-driven innovations had been invested in laying a foundation for Common Core instruction, the testing costs might not be an issue. But, if the tests are just going to document another mega-failure, what's the point?

I don't disagree with John, but Mike's comment is directed at what really worries me. How can you do a cost analysis without calculating the cost of the required technology upgrades? That strikes me as being like doing a count of the total mortality of World War I (which we'll probably hear a lot about in the coming year) while excluding deaths on the battlefield. What's the point of such a calculation that misses what ought to be the main cause for concern? I believe the ACT, which appears to be positioning itself to step in to help states that lose confidence in the consortia, is taking a more appropriate, measured approach by offering a tech version of its main test for those who have the necessary hardware, and a more old-fashioned, print-based version for those students, schools, and districts that aren't.

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