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Pearson blog starts heated debate about $1.7 billion for standardized testing

A blog post written by a Pearson psychometrician under the headline “Is $1.7 billion a lot or a little to spend on testing?” has sparked a heated online debate about the costs of standardized testing — monetarily and otherwise.

The $1.7 billion refers to a figure in a new Brookings Institution report on state spending on K-12 assessment systems. Author Matthew Chingos, looking at data from state contracts with testing vendors, concluded that 45 states spend a total of $669 million a year for these assessments, with “a rough estimate” state-level spending $1.7 billion annually across the nation. That, he says, is “one-quarter of one percent of annual K-12 education spending in the United States each year, raising the question of whether the amount is too much, just right or not enough. (The report unfortunately looks at the District  as if it were a state, which it isn’t; it says per-pupil testing costs range from $7 in New York to $114 in Washington, D.C., as if a state and a city are comparable.)

Pearson is the largest for-profit education company in the world. wrote in part on the Pearson Web site, referring to the $1.7 billion estimate for nationwide state spending on annual standardized assessments:

That’s a big number. By his [Chingos’s] calculation, that represents only “one-quarter of one percent of annual K-12 education spending.” Is it too much? I faced that question often in Maryland, especially from the State Board and legislators. Although it may seem self serving, given my position at Pearson, my answer then and now are the same: No. Annual school testing produces important information about school performance and quality, and for a miniscule percentage of education spending. We need to know how well our schools are serving our children. State tests tell us some important things about that, including which schools need the most help to improve student learning and which schools can serve as models for those schools to learn from. 

 Readers left some passionate comments about Ferrara’s view of teaching and learning, as well as his statement that students spend 10 hours taking end-of-course assessments. Here’s part of one response, from Mary Bieger:

 The time that you calculate that is spent on end-of-year testing is absolutely inaccurate. While the actual tests are ten hours (which by the way, is ridiculously too long for a third grader), the amount of preparation that goes into getting ready for the tests takes away from lessons that should focus on critical thinking. Preparing for these tests takes away from “21st Century Skills like communication, collaboration and critical thinking.” I think you do not realize what the weight of these tests is doing to our education system. It’s not just the time with the students.

Tim Slekar’s comment says in part:

“State tests tell us some important things about that, including which schools need the most help to improve student learning and which schools can serve as models for those schools to learn from.”


The above sentence demonstrates your delusional thinking and corrupted understanding of what tests “tell us” and your total disregard for “learning.” First, tests do not even begin to scratch the complex surface of “learning.”

 Read Ferrara’s blog post and all the comments here.

Before joining Pearson, Ferrara worked on the DC-CAS, the assessment program used in D.C. Public Schools. And he was the state assessment director at the Maryland State Department of Education.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.



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Valerie Strauss · December 5, 2012

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