Heritage on National Standards: Big Expense; Very Little Value

Heritage’s Lindsey Burke has written a web memo on national standards which is up today. She makes the case that the implementation of national standards comes at a great expense and results in very little value.  She has a good guide to spending on standards and assessment systems by states:

The budgetary impact of jettisoning state accountability structures and replacing existing standards and testing could be significant—likely much more than RTTT funding provides.

Over the past decade, taxpayers have spent considerable sums to develop existing state accountability systems:

  • California. California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting Program, which began in 1998, tests students in grades 2–11 in English, math, science, social science, and history. Estimates suggest that it would cost California taxpayers $1.6 billion to replace the existing state standards with the Common Core standards.[4] Yet California has agreed to overhaul its existing system with the new national standards and assessments.
  • Florida. The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test measures student achievement in grades 3–11 in reading, math, and science. Since 1996, Florida has spent more than $404 million to develop and maintain the system.[5] Taxpayer investment in the existing high-quality assessments has been substantial, and overhauling the system for unproven national assessments, which Florida has agreed to adopt, could produce significant new implementation costs to taxpayers.
  • Texas. Texas has resisted the push for national standards. The Lone Star State estimates that the adoption of new standards and tests would cost taxpayers upwards of $3 billion. “Adopting national standards and tests would also require the purchase of new textbooks, assessments, and professional development tools, costing Texas taxpayers an estimated $3 billion, on top of the billions of dollars Texas has already invested in developing our strong standards,” stated Governor Rick Perry (R) in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in opposition to national standards and tests.[6]
  • Virginia. The Virginia Board of Education unanimously rejected adoption of the        proposed Common Core State Standards and tests. One of the board’s chief arguments against adopting national standards was fiscal, with members noting that “Virginia’s investment in the Standards of Learning [SOL] since 1995 far exceeds the $250 million Virginia potentially could have received by abandoning the SOL and competing in phase two of Race to the Top.”[7] Indeed, since 1996, Virginia taxpayers have paid more than $379 million to develop and implement the state SOLs. The costs for developing the SOLs include expenditures for the initial development and subsequent revisions of the curriculum frameworks and assessments, as well as the development of new supporting materials and professional development related to using the new testing system.

She also gives a recommended solution for high-quality standards and assessments:

Instead of throwing out existing assessments developed at great taxpayer expense for unproven national standards and tests, state policymakers should:

  • Strengthen existing state-based accountability systems. State leaders should follow the example of states like Florida, Massachusetts, and Virginia and create strong state standards and tests. State leaders should work to continually raise standards by raising achievement levels, ensuring appropriate learning sequencing, and requiring teachers to demonstrate subject-matter mastery.
  • Provide information to parents and taxpayers about school performance. To make assessments meaningful, information about school performance should be publicized and easily accessible to parents and taxpayers. Standards, cut scores, school performance, and definitions of proficiency should all be readily available.
  • Empower parents to act. Once parents are equipped with information about school and student performance based on solid state standards and assessments, they should be empowered to use that information to choose a school that best meets their children’s needs.

Federal policymakers should likewise resist further federal involvement in education and should:

  • Empower states with funding flexibility in exchange for transparency. Instead of providing more federal funding with strings attached—such as national education standards and tests—policymakers in Washington should pursue avenues to maximize transparency of state assessment systems. Federal policymakers should free states from the bureaucratic red tape handed down from Washington and permit state leaders to use federal education funding in a manner that best meets local needs.

I hope state policy makers are listening…

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