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States Benefit from Assessment Collaboration

Implementing the Common Core represents the biggest change to K12 assessment systems since No Child Left Behind, leading to concerns over the costs of enacting these new standards and tests. A report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution provides first-of-its kind, comprehensive and up-to-date information on assessment system costs nationwide to help states predict spending under the Common Core.

Forty-five states pay a total of $669 million per year on contracts with vendors that provide NCLB-required math and reading assessments, according to “Strength in Numbers: State Spending on K12 Assessment.” This figure reaches an estimated $1.7 billion per year after adjusting for the states that were not counted and non-contracted spending. “It seems like a big number, but K12 public education spending is about $658 billion per year [nationally],” says Matthew M. Chingos, a fellow in the Brown Center and the report’s author. “This is only one quarter of one percent of spending, or $27 per kid,” he adds.

As states spend relatively little on assessments that are used for high-stakes purposes including teacher evaluation, they must find ways to absorb budget cuts without compromising test quality, the report states. One key strategy involves state collaboration on assessments. Larger states tend to spend substantially less per student, as they save on fixed costs like test development by spreading them over more students, and may have more bargaining power with testing vendors. Smaller states can join a consortium to share these fixed costs, as well.

Some consortia are already established, such as the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) used in four states. Others, like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which includes 23 states, are still in development. According to estimates, a state with 100,000 students that joins a consortium of states containing 1 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. Nearly all states that have adopted the Common Core standards are collaborating to form assessment consortia, Chingos says.

Administrators should consider the quality of assessments in their state, and engage with policymakers to strengthen them, Chingos says. “A lot of concern about testing is that we’re spending too much, but testing is driving education policy, and teacher and principal evaluation,” he adds. “If we’re using it for so many things and are concerned about the quality, we might be concerned not that we’re spending too much, but in some places, too little.”

To read the report, visit