NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Accountability Works: Testing Won't Be Costly

March 11, 2002

Testing students at regular intervals is the cornerstone of the accountability provisions of the new federal education reform law. Federal funds are authorized to cover the increased expense; but critics said the tests would cost considerably more, amounting to an unfunded federal mandate that would consume local education dollars.

The "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB) requires that all children be tested in reading and math in grades 3 through 8, plus once in high school, and that children be tested in science at least once at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

  • The NCLB provides nearly $360 million in federal funds this year to cover the cost of testing, but National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) estimated the tests will cost the states as much as $7 billion a year.
  • However, a recent study by Accountability Works -- a nonprofit policy research and consulting organization affiliated with the Education Leaders Council (ELC), a pro-reform group -- estimates the annual cost of testing for all the states will total $312 million to $388 million.
  • AW projects that the average state will face annual cost increases between $6.1 million and $7.6 million and receive $7.1 million in federal funds.
  • The NASBE cost estimate was inflated, says AW, by the assumption that testing would cost $25 to $50 per student, when states typically pay vendors $5 to $15 per student for testing.

Researchers found other flaws in the NASBE estimate. For example, it used per student estimates to calculate test development costs despite the fact that such costs are largely fixed regardless of the number of students to be assessed.

Source: Theodor Rebarber and Thomson W. McFarland, "Estimated Cost of the Testing Requirements in the 'No Child Left Behind Act,'" February 2002, Accountability Works, Education Leaders Council, 225 19th Street, N.W., Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 261-2600.


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