The cost of testing: States spending $1.7 billion a year. Georgia on low end of spending scale.

crcted.0920 (Medium)A new report today on test spending by the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings concludes that states would be wiser to consider joining forces in test creation, which is now costing  $1.7 billion per year or one-quarter of one percent of annual K-12 education spending. (The money breaks down to $27 per pupil in grades 3-9.)

The author of the “Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K-12 Assessment Systems” is Matthew M. Chingos, co-author of  “Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities.” (See my 2009 interview with him.)

Georgia, by the way, spends far less than many other states, according to the study. Georgia spends $14 per pupil on tests, compared to Massachusetts, which spends $64, or Hawaii, which spends $105.

While the costs of tests amount to less than one percent of per-pupil spending , the authors say, “Spending in U.S. public schools totaled $658 billion in 2008-09 (the most recent year for which data are available), so even one-half of one percent would add up to more than $3 billion each year. And states can make changes to their assessment budgets with relative ease compared to some larger categories of expenditures, such as employee salaries, which are often constrained by collective bargaining agreements. For example, Georgia cancelled the upcoming spring 2013 administration of its state test to first- and second-grade students due to budget constraints.”

Here is an excerpt, but take a look at the full report if you can. You will have to download it:

We find that the 45 states from which we obtained data spend a combined $669 million per year on their primary assessment contracts, or $27 per pupil in grades 3-9, with six testing vendors accounting for 89 percent of this total. Per-pupil spending varies significantly across states, with Oregon ($13 per student), Georgia ($14), and California ($16) among the lowest-spending states, and Massachusetts ($64), Delaware ($73), and Hawaii ($105) among the highest spending. We find that larger states tend to spend substantially less, per student, than smaller states, which is not surprising given that larger states save on fixed costs like test development by spreading them over more students and may have more bargaining power.

We estimate that states nationwide spend upwards of roughly $1.7 billion on assessments each year, after adjusting the $669 million figure to (1) account for the fact that six percent of students are located in states for which we were unable to obtain data, (2) reflect spending on assessments not included in states’ primary assessment contracts, and (3) include state-level spending on assessment-related activities that are not contracted out. This seemingly large number amounts to only one-quarter of one percent of annual K-12 education spending. Were all statewide assessment activities to cease and the funding used to hire new teachers, the pupil-teacher ratio would only fall by 0.1 students. If instead the costs were devoted to an across-the-board pay increase for teachers, the average teacher would see her salary increase by one percent, or about $550.

This relatively low level of spending on assessment, combined with concerns that the quality of tests in many states is not high enough to use them for high-stakes purposes such as teacher evaluation, strongly suggests that states should seek efficiencies in order to absorb budgets cuts without compromising test quality or to free up resources that could be reinvested in upgrades to assessment systems. A clear strategy for cost savings suggested by our data is for states to collaborate on assessments so as to share the fixed costs of test and item development over larger numbers of students. Our cost model predicts substantial savings from collaborating on assessments. For example, a state with 100,000 students that joins a consortium of states containing one million students saves an estimated 37 percent, or $1.4 million per year; a state of 500,000 students saves 25 percent, or $3.9 million, by joining the same consortium.

Collaborating to form assessment consortia is not a new idea, and is in fact the strategy being pursued by nearly all of the states that have adopted the Common Core standards. Our model cannot be used to estimate the cost of the tests being developed by the Common Core consortia because they include innovative features not part of most existing systems and because they are substantially larger (in terms of students covered) than any existing state assessment system. But our model does suggest that these consortia will create opportunities to realize significant cost savings, all else equal, compared to the current model of most states going it alone.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

60 comments Add your comment


November 29th, 2012
1:42 pm

Just making sure I’m following the correct bread crumbs…Is the full report a PDF download by Matthew M. Chingos?

I’ll take a look, but my initial thought…Why did states spend so much for their own assessments instead of using the more well known tests from California & Iowa? I don’t worry much about the CRCT, but I do pay attention to where my kids rank nationally on the ITBS.


November 29th, 2012
1:56 pm

MannyT, the reason why states use their own tests is so that they have control over how the results are reported. If all states took the same test then it would be impossible to spin the results when comparing State A to State B. It’s politics pure and simple. Look at what is going on with how graduation rates are reported. BTW, the numbers are still much lower than the state is reporting.


November 29th, 2012
1:58 pm

“Georgia cancelled the upcoming spring 2013 administration of its state test to first- and second-grade students due to budget constraints.”

Typical of our public school administrators – cut an important productive classroom tool instead of our huge administrative overhead budget. Cutting $14 per student is ridiculous. Turning the heat down one degree and the air conditioning up one degree in the administration offices would save more than that. Cutting a few extraneous jobs in most offices would save many times more. But we know what the administrative priorities are, and students are NOT at the top of the list.

What's Best for Kids?

November 29th, 2012
2:17 pm

The best thing Georgia did was take the tests away from the little ones.
Do you want your six year old sitting for two hours without moving or talking? Do you think that is beneficial for anyone? Do you think it accurate? These kids are six and seven years old.

What's Best for Kids?

November 29th, 2012
2:20 pm

Imagine how many programs could be put into place for the kids who are identified by their teachers as being behind instead of spending Billions on tests that don’t really do anything.
Imagine how much administrative costs would be cut by getting rid of those tests, too.
Imagine all the people…sorry. Had to do it.
But without the tests, we would have much less administrative costs.

Just sayin.


November 29th, 2012
2:30 pm

@ What’s Best – They didn’t cut out testing of first and second graders – they suspended it for at least a year for “budget constraints”, not because they can’t sit still for a test you claim takes too long.

sneak peak into education

November 29th, 2012
2:40 pm

@centrist-have you been in a class when the tests are taken? If not, you have very little idea of the very strict conditions under which the tests are taken. The children, once finished with the test that can and do last up to 2 hrs or more and usually are taken over a period of 4 days, are not allowed to read, talk, or move from their desk. They have to sit like little statues so that the integrity of the test is intact. Is this a good way to have our children spend their time when they could be learning? I watched the Dan Rather report on the Finnish school system and it is apparent that educational success CAN be achieved without taking so much time out of the school day to teach to the test, take practice tests, benchmark tests, IOWA tests, CRCT tests, etc…. It just goes to show that the huge amount of money being spent on these tests also equates to a huge lobbying group in DC that will do their utmost to ensure they stay in place and help line the pockets of all the big testing companies like Pearson.


November 29th, 2012
2:51 pm

My last comment on this since it has gone off topic about the cost of testing ($14 per GA student) to whether we prepare and test too much, or there are too strict conditions during testing.

Only one relatively inexpensive test has been suspended for 1st and 2nd graders for budget constraints. My point was/is that the little bit of savings is ridiculous compared to other administrative areas where much more significant savings could be accomplished.

Private Citizen

November 29th, 2012
3:00 pm

Just A Teacher

November 29th, 2012
3:17 pm

Stop testing so darned much and give students a chance to learn and teachers a chance to teach. These scantron tests are a joke, anyway. I believe people need to think about how much money is being wasted on these idiotic tests. Any teacher worth a flip will tell you that multiple choice tests evaluate the low end of the learning scale. The only types of questions that are easier are True or False.

Unfortunately, there are companies that have taken advantage of the current testing mania and are ripping off taxpayers. If you want to see real results, take that $669,000,000.00 and spend it on teacher salaries. But I guess you have to trust that the teachers are actually doing their jobs to do that.

Pride and Joy

November 29th, 2012
3:29 pm

$14 per kid is a bargain. I’ll pay for the whole class to take the test. 14 times 25 kids = 350 a year. No problem.
the costs of the tests aren’t the problem. The problem is the integrity of the people administering them. All school employees should be banned from the school during the testing period — let them go make lesson plans for two days.

What's Best for Kids?

November 29th, 2012
3:35 pm

Or maybe, just maybe the state realized that the tests for the little ones is silly.
The flow of administration began when the tests grew in number.
The average 11th grader is tested 11 times in one year.
My kidergartener is tested seven times.
Who puts all these tests together?
Who counts them?
Who grades them?
Who gathers all the data?
Get rid of much of the testing, and you will get rid of a lot of the administrative bloat.

Matt P

November 29th, 2012
3:42 pm

This number is a significant undercount, since it only is counting the money that we subsidize large, for-profit test companies with.

Not included in the estimate: the salaries of the teachers, assistants, and administrators who spend weeks prepping for the test and administering the test.

Also not included in the estimate: class time lost on tests developed by for-profit companies which are designed to tell you how much your little cog in the education machine looks exactly like a model cog. This lost class time means that teachers and students have to spend extra hours to cover the material they were supposed to cover, or that all the material is just not covered.

Also also not included in the estimate – how much is lost because our education system is designed around making model cogs, and not designed around unlocking the potential of individual children who each have their own skills, talents, goals, and problems. This is hard to estimate, but here’s one clue – 1/3 of Georgian high school kids don’t graduate in 4 years. Houston, we have a problem.

joke on us

November 29th, 2012
3:59 pm

How did the founding fathers get an education, or how did we win the race to the moon, or the race for the “bomb” without all these test?

When most of these numb-skulls in our state leg. graduated high school how many of them had to take a HS graduation test or an EOCT?

How in the world did teachers give an effective education before all this data driven BS came about?

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

November 29th, 2012
4:02 pm

Manny T, Duh! and Centrist,

Several years before John Barge became our SSOS, the GDOE stopped paying for, and most local school systems stopped giving, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills(ITBS) “for budgetary reasons.”

I suspect that the avoidance of embarrassment was the real reason GA educrats “couldn’t” find money for such nationally-normed standardized testing.

Is anyone so naive as to think that our kids would compare on average more favorably against national norms than against our own “low-bar” state standards?

John Konop

November 29th, 2012
4:14 pm

This high stakes testing is a waste of money anyways. The top countries in the world in education test way less than us and track kids. Stop the gimmicks and just get back to basics, and teach kids based on aptitude and we will see lower drop –out rate, higher employment…………….

High Stakes Tests Do Not Improve Student Learning

……… A FairTest review of published data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reveals that students were less likely to reach a level of “proficient” or higher on the NAEP math or reading tests in states which had mandatory high school graduation tests. Those states also had more students who failed to reach NAEP’s “basic” level. In addition, states with high school graduation tests were less likely to show statistically significant improvement in their students’ scores than were states without such tests.
In essence, then, proponents of high-stakes tests expect states to adopt the assessment strategies used in the weakest performing states. Given the NAEP data, there is no reason to believe such a reform strategy will achieve success………

Jerry Eads

November 29th, 2012
4:16 pm

As I’ve noted (perhaps too often), I worked in testing for about 20 years and even ran testing for the state of Virginia for a while. I don’t work in testing any more because of the overwhelming evidence of the damage we do to kids, teachers and learning. We learn virtually nothing from minimum competency testing like the CRCT, and the tests CERTAINLY don’t help teachers teach students.

Perhaps the worst thing we’ve done in the 30+ years we’ve used this sort of testing across the country has been to dumb down what kids learn to little more than the memorization of an arbitrary pile of factoids. Best thing John did was to eliminate the kid torture of the 1st and 2nd grade tests.

I dearly hope the testing consortia associated with Common Core fulfill their promises that we’ll finally let teachers help kids think rather than memorize. We’ll see.


November 29th, 2012
4:23 pm

There are assessment costs not reported in this report because they have been passed down to the district and school levels. Benchmark testing, progress monitoring, screening assessments, pre/post tests, and other forms of assessment that have swelled in recent years add to our costs but are not part of the state testing budget.

As for the first and second grade testing, it turns out that those tests are “released” to the districts and we are “allowed” to use them for assessment. We print them and score them ourselves. This is another cost that is not reported.

Then there are the test-prep materials that are purchased by schools and districts that give students the opportunity to “practice” using the the CRCT format.

The true costs of all the testing craze that plagues our schools cannot be measured in today’s dollars, but it will be measured in times to come.


November 29th, 2012
4:24 pm

Very well said, Jerry Eads.

John Konop

November 29th, 2012
4:24 pm

Dr. Craig Spinks, the truth is when you normalize for aptitude our scores are very good ie SAT and ACT. We just have to many kids taking them, who would have been better served with a vo-tech education. Unless you can show me a formula, medicine, operation……that changes aptitude it is time to stop looking for silver bullet of the day from you guys and start tracking……….

Atlanta Mom

November 29th, 2012
4:27 pm

My first thought was, great, we’re last in spending on something we shouldn’t be spending money on. But then, I recall, talking to my friend in Florida. She tells me that when they receive test results, they also receive reports in which they are alerted about potential cheating results. If test answers are too similar, the school is alerted and the required seating charts are examined. So, if Johnny has the same answers as Jimmy, and they were sitting next to each other the school may question the results. If Johnny and Jimmy are at far ends of the sitting chart, all is well (hopefully)
Is this where Georgia skimps?

Pride and Joy

November 29th, 2012
5:21 pm

To What’s Best — reagaridng sitting for two hours — they do that already. I also did it and came out fine. The tests were easy and I didn’t mind taking them and …
Let’s get real…we parents NEED TO KNOW how well or how poorly our schools are teaching. If we wait until third grade it’s too late. We need an accurate assessment now. I vividly remember being told to get a good night’s rest, eat a good breakfast and bring two number two pencils to school.
It was absolutely no hardship for me and I want my kids to be tested. I deserve to know how well they are doing compared to their peers across the country.


November 29th, 2012
5:23 pm

Well, for what it’s worth, for the first time, I won’t be done with the curriculum before test day – although I will have 9 additional days afterward to try to keep the children calm after they take their “End of Course” test.

mountain man

November 29th, 2012
6:10 pm

“How did the founding fathers get an education, or how did we win the race to the moon, or the race for the “bomb” without all these test?”

That was back when teachers gave grades that were indicative of the mastery achieved. If the student did not achieve minimum proficiency, they got an “F” and repeated the grade. Now the parents just complain to administrators who tell the teacher to change the grade. Or else administrators tell the teachers – no zeros, and no “F”s.

mountain man

November 29th, 2012
6:12 pm

“Well, for what it’s worth, for the first time, I won’t be done with the curriculum before test day – although I will have 9 additional days afterward to try to keep the children calm after they take their “End of Course” test.”

That is smart. Schedule the End of Course Test before the end of the course. Why not schedule the EOCT on the LAST DAY. Makes too much sense, I guess.


November 29th, 2012
6:40 pm

“Georgia spends $14 per pupil on tests…”

That’s just for the cost of the tests. Factor in teacher salary, school expenses, etc for days testing and days in test prep, and that number gets multiplied many times.

My goodness, don’t they know we need to build a new stadium for the Falcons?


November 29th, 2012
7:57 pm

And what does this very low-ball number include? The preparation materials? The printing and mailing and returning? The grading? The reporting? The teacher and administrator time in being trained and giving it? The retesting, with its attendant expenses? I am willing to bet…NOT!


November 29th, 2012
8:36 pm

Too many tests as it is . . .

It's Ok

November 29th, 2012
10:23 pm

Another thing Georgia is on the low end of.


November 29th, 2012
11:35 pm

Centrist and Mountain Man, How in the world did you two become experts on so many topics. To read your writing, you know everything about everything.


November 30th, 2012
6:56 am

Centrist, you need to check the percentages; central office administration ( which includes school psychologists) accounts for less than 9% of all education expenditures. Some districts are bloated, but it would not help the state much overall to eliminate the administrative positions. besides, unless administrators do the compliance work and reporting, schools would not receive a dime.

Mountain Man

November 30th, 2012
7:20 am

“Centrist and Mountain Man, How in the world did you two become experts on so many topics. To read your writing, you know everything about everything.”

I have an opinion. Like a**holes, everyone has one, and yours does not smell any better than mine. If you don’t think my ideas have merit, just skip over them. I (and a few others) think my ideas are worth something. Am I an expert on schooling? No. We have had “experts” running our schools for tha last 40 years. Are our schools better than they were in the sixties and seventies? I’ll let you answer that. I do READ and I do THINK, which seems to be more than some people do.

Pride and Joy

November 30th, 2012
7:57 am

I don’t always agree with Mountain Man but I am always interested in what he says…and sometimes he is so entertaining it is worth reading his post just for the delicious humor.
The last rebuttal (pun intended) regarding opinions and A-holes was terrific.

Pride and Joy

November 30th, 2012
8:01 am

Here is an honest and earnest question:
If teachers think there is too much testing, why do teachers administer their own tests? Why not just use the mandatory tests required by the governments such as THE CRCT and the district tests?
If testing is using too much valuable teaching time, why not eliminate those tests that the teachers themselves create and administer?

quit wasting money

November 30th, 2012
8:20 am

Why are schools paying so much for PSAT and AP testing when kids are not interested and bring scores down?


November 30th, 2012
8:32 am

Georgia has already more than mastered the art of test cheating. No need to spend any more money.

William Casey

November 30th, 2012
9:20 am

@Pride & Joy: My teacher created tests were always much more challenging than the “End-of-Course” tests.

@Pride and Joy

November 30th, 2012
9:52 am

Teachers are required to give subject are unit, chapter, etc. test. Those test probably give the best indicator of wht the student has learned.

Pride and Joy

November 30th, 2012
10:03 am

William Casey, I’ve no doubt your tests were more challenging but…if tests are already taking away too much instruction time, it would make sense to limit the tests that aren’t mandatory. Your thoughts?

Pride and Joy

November 30th, 2012
10:07 am

catlady asks a good question — what costs are covered for the tests? It seems necessary to answer that question to better determine whether money spent was necessary or frivolous. What concerns me is what another poster indicated — that Georgia is allowed to grade and administer their own tests — that would make it easier for administrators to cheat. I would pay double my share for the tests to have a disinterested third party to administer and grade the tests and give the results to the schools instead of allowing the districts to administer and grade them. We need to take away the temptation to cheat.

Pride and Joy

November 30th, 2012
10:09 am

Yes, I DO want my child sitting still for two hours taking a test. I DO want to know how my child is performing compared to his peers in his classroom in his school, in his district, in her State, in the US, in the world.
YES I DO want my child to sit still for two hours and take a test.

Pride and Joy

November 30th, 2012
10:15 am

This completely frightens me “As for the first and second grade testing, it turns out that those tests are “released” to the districts and we are “allowed” to use them for assessment. We print them and score them ourselves. This is another cost that is not reported.”
In light of the epidemic of adminstration and teacher-cheating on the CRCT tests, it seems unbelievable that the district would be allowed to grade and report the tests for first and second graders.
There’s trust and then there’s downright stupidity.
It is absolutely insanely stupid to trust a fox to guard teh hen house when the fox has already eaten many chickens he was paid to guard.

Pride and Joy

November 30th, 2012
10:18 am

My monniker has been hijacked. I DID NOT WRITE THE FOLLOWING “Teachers are required to give subject are unit, chapter, etc. test. Those test probably give the best indicator of wht the student has learned.” I would never write such an ignorant thing as “Those test….”
My subjects and verbs agree. I am not that ignorant.
Maureen, please do not allow posts from Pride and Joy from that IP address.

Pride and Joy

November 30th, 2012
10:31 am

This comment from a teacher really concerns me “although I will have 9 additional days afterward to try to keep the children calm after they take their “End of Course” test.

This statement is very concerning. It shows that this individual teacher is only teaching so that children scorer well on the test. Again, why is this individual teacher NOT USING THE NINE DAYS TO TEACH?
Which brings up another important consideration – if the teacher is only teaching so that kids perform well on the tests, then that proves we really need to be testing the kids. If we don’t test the kids, this individual teacher has NO MOTIVATION to teach our innocent children.
This is a very frightening revelation.


November 30th, 2012
10:37 am

The suggestion in this report (and in a related article by Andrew Ujifusa published by Education Week) that the concerns of parents and taxpayers — to say nothing of researchers and classroom educators and school boards and members of the business community — are limited to the use of standardized testing for accountability or that public dollars are flowing to for-profit companies is, at least here in Texas, mostly false.

As recent debates in Texas have shown, one can be both a strong supporter of school accountability and a skeptic regarding the effectiveness of current methodologies used to develop, implement and score the tests (whether privately or publicly prepared) for providing useful and actionable information about the kind or quality of instruction (or other school input factors). For accountability to work as intended, we need the tests to be mostly about learning and teaching within a given school year (i.e., how well an algebra test measures student learning and teacher effectiveness related to specific algebra content). Accordingly, a question worth asking of organizations (whether public or private) creating tests using current methodologies is this: WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE AT SCALE THAT THESE TESTS ARE SUFFICIENTLY SENSITIVE TO THE KIND OR QUALITY OF INSTRUCTION (OR OTHER SCHOOL INPUT FACTORS) TO WARRANT THEIR CONTINUED USE AS PART OF A HIGH-STAKES ACCOUNTABILITY SYSTEM? The fact that a test says “Algebra” on the front cover or that the items look like algebra items does not address whether, at scale, most of the variance in student scores is related to what happened in a given school year or whether most of the variance is due to a relatively stable test taking ability (where here, in particular, commercial vendors seem far ahead of the public consortia in claiming this test taking ability should be called “college and career readiness”).

This question doesn’t go away just because the vendor’s lobbyists have been successful, so far, in keeping the issue off the table in the legislative processes in Texas. As a result, the concerns of parents and taxpayers (and many others here in Texas) about what value we are getting for our tax dollars will persist. There is an emerging consensus in Texas that we can develop a more effective, transparent, cost effective and rigorous accountability system … but not if reports and articles related to these reports continue to misrepresent or trivialize (the likely implication of this report suggesting Standardized-testing costs a mere quarter of 1 percent of total K-12 spending in the United States) the EMPIRICALLY BASED CONCERNS of those with direct knowledge of how the current generation of tests are failing our efforts to support meaningful, forward-looking, school reform.


November 30th, 2012
11:37 am

What’s Best For Kids …..

I know you’ll enjoy this article….!!!



November 30th, 2012
11:59 am

Enter your comments here


November 30th, 2012
11:59 am

@ Pride and Joy As a teacher, I am required to not just give unit tests but my school administrators go so far as to tell me how many unit tests I have to give during a semester. This way every teacher that teaches the same course as I will have the same number of test, the same number of class work assignments, the same number of projects. This is to ensure that children are being treated the same no matter what teacher they have (according to their logic).

bootney farnsworth

November 30th, 2012
12:25 pm

lets form a charter school just for taking standardized tests.
all tests, all the time.

the kids won’t learn much, but by God they will have test scores

Mountain Man

November 30th, 2012
1:14 pm

“the kids won’t learn much, but by God they will have test scores”

My view on tests (my OPINION) – you wouldn’t need these tests if the teachers’ grades accurately reflected the mastery of the subject matter.

Teaching to the test – if the test measures what is supposed to be learned in class, then “teaching to the test” is also teaching the basic material. The only time regular subect matter is not covered is if you take time out of class just to teach “test-taking skills”.