Testing More, Teaching Less

A new study titled "Testing More, Teaching Less" has found some not too surprising results, America’s obsession with student testing is costings huge sums of money and causing significant lost instructional time.

Based on a detailed grade-by-grade analysis of the testing calendars for two mid-size urban school districts, and the applied research from other studies of state mandated testing, our study found that the time students spend taking tests ranged from 20 to 50 hours per year in heavily tested grades. In addition, students can spend 60 to more than 110 hours per year in test prep in high-stakes testing grades. Including the cost of lost instructional time (at $6.15 per hour, equivalent to the per-student cost of adding one hour to the school day), the estimated annual testing cost per pupil ranged from $700 to more than $1,000 per pupil in several grades that had the most testing. If testing were abandoned altogether, one school district in this study could add from 20 to 40 minutes of instruction to each school day for most grades. The other school district would be able to add almost an entire class period to the school day for grades 6-11. Additionally, in most grades, more than $100 per test-taker could be reallocated to purchase instructional programs, technology or to buy better tests. Cutting testing time and costs in half still would yield significant gains to the instructional day, and free up enough dollars in the budget that could fund tests that are better aligned to the standards and produce useful information for teachers, students and parents

Based on a detailed grade-by-grade analysis of the direct costs and the time costs of testing in the two school districts’ assessment inventories, our study found:

  • Pervasive testing.
  • One of the districts in our study had 14 different assessments given to all students at least once a year in at least one grade. Some assessments are administered for several subjects multiple times a year resulting in 34 different test administrations. The other district’s testing inventory had 12 different assessments but 47 separate administrations over the course of the year.

  • Test-taking time.
  • Students in one district in grades 3-10 spent approximately 15 hours or more per year (about three full school days) taking state-mandated tests, interim/bench- marking tests and other district academic assessments. Students in the other district in grades 6-11 devoted up to 55 hours per year to taking tests (about two full weeks of the school year).

  • Time for administrative tasks with students.
  • This includes giving directions, passing out test booklets and answer sheets, reading directions on the computer, etc., before and after each testing session. These administrative tasks with students took more than five hours annually— one full school day—in one of the districts. In the other district, administrative tasks with students used up more than 10 hours of the school year—two full school days—in the most highly tested grades.

  • Direct budgetary costs.
  • Several national studies show that the direct cost of purchasing, licensing and scoring state-mandated tests is around $25 per test-taker, and the annual cost of interim/benchmark testing is about $20 per test-taker. But when considering the cost of all the tests in a school district’s inventory, the direct budgetary costs of the district testing program ranged from $50 per test-taker in one district to over $100 per test-taker in the other for grades 2-11. The direct budgetary cost of state testing represents less than 1 percent of K-12 per-pupil education spending. Nationally, education spending averages about $11,000 per pupil and reaches $20,000 per pupil in the highest-spending states.

  • Logistics and administrative costs.
  • Estimated at $2 per student per hour of testing (up to $80 per year for students in several grades in one district), these are costs associated with man- aging pallets of testing boxes; verifying and affixing data labels to test booklets, which could include three versions of the test at each grade level; and placing testing materials in secure locations before and after each round of testing to prevent cheating. After testing is completed, each school has to collect booklets, pack them and ship them off for scoring.

  • Test preparation time.
  • The detailed researched-based rubric narrowly defined “test preparation” to include giving practice tests and teaching test-taking strategies, but does not count review, reteaching or tutoring. Students in grades 3-8 in one district spent at least 80 hours per year (approximately 16 full school days) preparing for state-mandated tests, the associated interim/benchmarking tests and all of the other district assessments. In the other district, students in grades 6-11 devoted 100 hours or more per year on test prep (approximately one full month of the school year).

  • The cost of testing and lost instructional time.
  • If school districts lengthen the school day or the school year to regain the instructional time lost to testing, the direct budget costs of testing are far from inconsequential. Adding one hour to the school day costs about $6.15 per student. In one district, the annual cost of testing per pupil in grades 3-8, including the cost of lost instructional time, was about $700—approximately 7 percent of per-pupil expenditures in the typical state. In the other district, the cost of testing in grades 6-11 exceeded $1,100 per student—about 11 percent of per-pupil expenditures in the typical state.

  • Alternate uses of testing time and costs.
  • Redirecting time and money devoted to testing to other uses would provide a lot more time for instruction—possibly including partial restoration of art, music and PE programs, during the existing school day. Cutting test prep and testing time in half could still restore significant minutes for instruction and would free up funding that could be used to purchase better tests, such as the Common Core assessments.