Home > Uncategorized > Testing: To Profit or Not?

Testing: To Profit or Not?

January 6, 2013

I had an interesting discussion on Twitter Friday morning with two current Oklahoma district superintendents about testing. It began with Clinton Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Hime asking if high-stakes testing would be as popular if it were done by non-profits.

I responded that technically, the College Board (SAT, PSAT, AP exams) and ACT, Inc. (ACT, PLAN, EXPLORE) are non-profits. A quick bit of research on the state Open Books website allowed me to find the following state expenses for 2012 for testing contracts:

Company

Status

Expenses

NCS Pearson For Profit $14,200,000
CTB McGraw Hill For Profit $1,600,000
ACT, Inc. Non-Profit $1,500,000
College Board Non-Profit $900,000

Keep in mind that this includes all state contracts for testing – common education, higher education, and Career Tech. We should also note that the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education pay for all eighth grade students in the state to take the EXPLORE exam and all tenth grade students in the state to take the PLAN.

Pearson and CTB will be changing positions in 2013, with CTB being awarded the newest testing contracts, which include a suite of benchmark tests. The total amount will increase if Superintendent Barresi gets the legislature to approve a bump from $11 million to $16 million for the next fiscal year. Of the more than $18 million represented above, K-12 testing contracts are the vast majority of expenses.

However, the ACT and College Board share of testing revenue from our state increases when you consider the fact that students pay for those tests themselves. In 2012, more than 29,000 Oklahoma seniors took the ACT. At $35 a test, this accounts for another $1,015,000. This also doesn’t account for underclassmen taking the test any money spent on test preparation. Meanwhile, more than 23,000 Advanced Placement exams were administered at the end of the 2011-12 school year. Each of those exams cost $89, although some of the expense for that was borne by the state. According to this cost-benefit analysis report to the legislature, the SDE spent almost $600,000 on test fee assistance. This leaves about $1.5 million in test fees for parents.

A quick look at both the College Board and ACT websites shows that with more testing on the horizon, there is also more opportunity for Oklahomans to spend money with them – either directly or indirectly. College Board has Accuplacer, and a $1.99 smart phone app that you can also purchase. ACT has WorkKeys, a “job skills assessment system that helps employers select, hire, train, develop, and retain a high-performance workforce.”

College Board’s new president was a key architect of the Common Core State Standards. Something tells me they’re going to be a larger player in K-12 testing in the future. ACT is developing a new assessment system that will “span elementary grades through high school.” This system will launch in 2014.

By the way, I find it amusing that this system will be introduced in a “launch.” Since we currently don’t have a space program, we need something to help us imagine. As a nation. For the children.

Ultimately, we’ll be forcing our kindergarten students to endure high-stakes tests. Don’t laugh. There’s real momentum for this happening.

I remember watching a 60 minutes exposé in the 1990s critical of teachers “teaching to the test.” It’s a funny complaint from society. Policy makers create more laws calling for high-stakes tests. We evaluate schools and teachers by those tests. We spend crazy money on those tests, both as taxpayers and as parents. We use the results of those tests to plot the future of our children. We even use test results to determine more tests that students need. Teachers have not created this obsessive assessment culture. They’ve just been hired to work within it.

At this point, I don’t distinguish between the crass profiteers leeching off of public education or the so-called non-profits. They all make off with gobs of money. They all have seats at the policy-making table (a place where teachers aren’t allowed to speak). They all have been complicit in the destruction of what school used to be: a place for children to explore and pursue their passions.

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  1. Jason
    January 6, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I agree with @coach57. If Oklahoma students already get growth data due to our kids already taking the Explore, Plan, & the Act and colleges accept ACT scores over EOI scores for college entrance, then why give EOI tests and the ACT tests. Sounds like a lot of money (16 million per year) to duplicate the same information by using 2 different testing programs.

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    • January 7, 2013 at 12:40 pm

      When the ACE Commission discussed using the ACT as a graduation test, ACT, Inc. balked. They insisted that was never the intent of the test. Now, with the two testing consortia for Common Core poised to present the results of their tests as “college readiness” scores, ACT seems to be rethinking that position. A lot would have to change in state law and the Oklahoma waiver to NCLB for this to happen. Still, where testing contracts are involved, rule nothing out … nothing except the size of those contracts going down.

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      • Jason
        January 8, 2013 at 9:22 pm

        I still do not think the ACT test should be used as a high stakes test. However, with CCSS here, tests become grade centered and not subject centered. This is done so growth can be measured for students and schools can be held accountable. 18 million of new money is a bunch of tax payer dollars to do the same thing that ACT can do.

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      • January 9, 2013 at 6:56 am

        I agree completely. I’d like to see the EOIs and ACE completely go away. If you think about it, they are an obstruction to the stated goal of seamless transition between high school, college, and careers. They test the extent to which students are prepared for very specificearly high school content.

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  2. January 6, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    One huge difference between ACT, and SAT testing is that the $89.00 pays for the test administrator and rental fees for the location of the test. The Pearson tests cost much more in $ and also manpower. The administration of the Pearson tests falls as an unfunded mandate of School Counselor’s time and volunteer proctors. The price tag for this manpower needs to be calculated and the cost of the testing needs to be adjusted accordingly. School Counselors at every elementary school devote 100% of their time towards testing for almost 2 weeks a year, and 50% of their time before and after testing. At $40 an hour that is quite an expense. Also thousands of volunteer proctors are used to monitor the test administration. These volunteers end up benefit Pearson who profits from their volunteer efforts.

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    • January 7, 2013 at 12:44 pm

      MM44, you’re absolutely right. Counselors are now servants of the testing companies, rather than the students. Everything in school is geared towards the tests. I wouldn’t begin to know how to calculate all the hours spent in a “typical” school on test prep. It’s overwhelming to consider.

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      • missmary44
        January 12, 2013 at 7:38 pm

        I replied with #7

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  3. missmary44
    January 12, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    It is overwhelming to consider the real cost of testing, but the data is being collected and is out there. If a member of the house of representatives who serves on the Education Budget Committees of the House and Senate would demand that the SDE find out from districts how many man hours are paid for and are volunteered to make testing take place. Each testing session has a proctor that spends 2 hours (at least) to monitor the test, and a certified teacher who serves as the Test Administrator. The session #s should be part of the SDE records that they keep, and is probably available through a Freedom of Information Act request. Every school building has a Building Test Coordinator who spends at least 40 hours a week for 4 weeks, and very possibly more. So 40 X 4 weeks x # of testing buildings in the state. that does not put into account the cost of labor given by districts to testing companies. {Just some ideas on how to break down the REAL COST OF TESTING}

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  1. February 1, 2013 at 7:17 am
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