Although Georgia has embraced the controversial set of education standards called Common Core, students here might never take the national test tied to those standards.
That’s because the test — being created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of state education leaders — is so expensive that Georgia would have to spend more on the new test alone than it currently spends on its entire assessment budget of $25 million.
And the PARCC test would only cover two subject areas, English and math, not the five areas that are tested on the state’s current exam, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test.
The cost of the Common Core test — which could run as high as $27.5 million in Georgia — will likely add fuel to the fire of those who already oppose the standards as a federal intrusion into state and local oversight of public education. The cost also puts those who have backed the standards despite political pressure in an awkward spot.
“Because of concerns surrounding the costs of the PARCC assessments, Gov. (Nathan) Deal is currently exploring options available to Georgia,” said Stephanie Mayfield, a Deal spokeswoman.
If Georgia opts not to have its students take the test because of its cost, some will wonder why the state embraced the national standards in the first place. How, after all, would Georgians know if students here are meeting the same standards as those in other states if there is no national test tied to the new standards?
Nationalizing standards — making sure Georgia students could clear the same academic bar as students in Maine, Montana or Missouri — has been the central argument of those who back Common Core.
But Kelly Marlow, a school board member in Cherokee County who has opposed Common Core, said the cost of a national test tied to the standards is a concern.
“I have publicly shared my concerns about the lack of public input and the skyrocketing implementation costs of Common Core during a board meeting earlier this year,” Marlow said. “I have even asked for a public hearing solely on implementation costs of Common Core and have been told it was ‘a little late in the game.’ It’s budget time in Cherokee County, and I think it would be playing a dangerous game to move forward without a full understanding of whether or not our citizens’ tax dollars will cover the bill or if we will all be washing the dishes.”
DOLLARS AND SENSE
Georgia currently spends $8 to $9 per student on assessment. PARCC has set a ceiling of $18.50 per student for the English test it’s developing and $18.50 per student for the math test it’s developing.
Based on the 746,191 students who took the English/language arts CRCT this year and the 743,301 students who took the math CRCT, the PARCC assessment would cost a combined $27.5 million.
Georgia’s $25 million assessment budget covers not only the CRCT but other expenses as well, including end-of-course tests and financial assistance to poor students taking Advanced Placement tests.
Matt Cardoza, a spokesman for the state Department of Education, said it’s important to note that assessment costs in Georgia will likely rise in the next few years whether or not the PARCC test is offered.
The CRCT’s costs were set in 2006, he said, and any test offered to Georgia students is likely to be more complex — and thus more expensive — than those offered now.
The state Board of Education voted in 2010 to embrace Common Core, which is similar to the Georgia Performance Standards the state had adhered to before.
This past year was the first during which coursework tied to Common Core was taught. A national test aligned to the new standards is expected to be offered during the 2014-2015 school year.
Georgia Superintendent John Barge, who is a member of the PARCC consortium, said he was the lone dissenter this past winter when PARCC set a maximum per-student cost for the test, which he viewed as unrealistic.
“I did not want to give any perception that I’m speaking for my Legislature that that money is going to be available,” Barge said.
IN HOT WATER?
Barge, like Gov. Nathan Deal, has supported Common Core despite vocal objections from tea party activists, who view the standards as a federal intrusion into state and local control over public education.
Barge and Deal, both Republicans, would ordinarily be well-positioned to receive support from tea party activists. But Common Core could become a threat to those prospects as they seek re-election next year.
While no state is required to embrace Common Core, the Obama administration does back it and has made federal education funding available to states that have signed on.
Barge and Deal have sparred on education issues in the past, but both are ringing alarm bells about the test tied to Common Core.
State Rep. Brooks Coleman, the Duluth Republican who chairs the Education Committee in the House of Representatives, said $27.5 million would be a steep price to pay for a test.
“That scares me,” Coleman said. “That’s a lot of money.”
Coleman, however, said he is hopeful that the cost will be lower, particularly if fewer students in Georgia are tested.
“I don’t know that we need to continue to do all of the testing we’re doing now,” Coleman said. “I think in this state we are over-testing children.”
SEEKING A SOLUTION
Cardoza said Barge suggested to PARCC that the new assessment be offered to students in fewer grades than those now taking the CRCT. That suggestion, Cardoza said, was rejected.
Barge said Georgia could decide to offer the PARCC assessment. Or, instead, it could tweak the CRCT and continue to offer it, or offer a different test, he said.
Even if there is no single, national assessment, Cardoza said Common Core is still right for Georgia.
He compared its worth to the value a student gets from taking an AP course even if that student does not take the AP exam. The coursework, he said, still benefits the student.
“The point of Common Core is bigger than just the assessments,” he said.
Larry Winter, a member of the state Board of Education, said he’s glad officials here and across the country are discussing the costs and merits of a national test.
“Do I think Georgia will spend $18.50 per student per test?” he asked. “No, I do not. We need to come up with a solution that’s good for Georgia students and is one that we can afford.”
WHAT IS COMMON CORE?
Common Core refers to a set of national education standards embraced by Georgia, 44 other states, the District of Columbia and a pair of U.S. territories.
The National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers began a push to create a set of national standards in 2008.
Some elected officials, business leaders and many in academia argued that the nation’s students needed to be better prepared for college, the workplace and global competition. Having students in Georgia be able to meet the same standards as those in, say, Connecticut, Hawaii or Iowa would improve education in the United States, they argued.
Embracing that argument, the NGA — which was co-chaired by Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue — worked with the CCSSO, state departments of education and private, nonprofit education groups to oversee the production of a set of national standards.
Education and business experts, including some from Georgia, wrote the standards and shared them with officials from state education departments.
In July 2010, the state Board of Education voted to have Georgia adhere to the standards.
The Obama administration supports Common Core and has used its education funding grant process to encourage states to adhere to the new standards. No state is required to adhere to Common Core.
This past school year was the first during which Common Core standards were adhered to in English/language arts in kindergarten through grade 12; in science literacy, history and social studies in grades six through 12; and in math in kindergarten through grade nine.
— Wayne Washington