Spirit of the Law

How Much Does Standardized Testing Really Cost Us?

There is the letter of the law, then there’s the spirit. Rep. Lew Frederick, the Oregon House’s only African American legislator, was the guiding force behind two new Oregon laws: HB 2655 (the testing opt-out bill of rights) and HB 2713 (the testing cost audit bill).

The spirit behind the two new laws is clear: To honestly examine the costs, both financial and otherwise, of the standardized testing that dominates Oregon education and to allow parents and students to make their own informed decisions about what kind of education is best for them.

HB 2713, the testing audit bill, directs school districts to report to the secretary of state by Sept. 15 on the impact of state tests on “instructional time, curricula, educators’ exercise of professional judgment, budgets and administrative time and focus.”

The state already knows how much it pays for the tests: It’s $27 million a year. Yes, $27 million. Payments go mostly to AIR, the American Institutes for Research and to the British education conglomerate, Pearson.

The testing audit bill seeks to determine the many additional costs that school districts pay.

Here’s the question: When responding to HB 2713, will local school districts consider all of the costs of high-stakes testing or will they minimize the total costs in order to minimize the growing movement questioning these tests? Will local districts respond to both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law?

Will local districts consider?

First, immediate costs

• Loss of instructional staff to school “testing coordinator” positions?

• Classroom time lost to test preparation?

• Loss of libraries and computer labs for months as they become testing centers?

• School counselors forced to focus on testing, not counseling?

• Staff meetings dominated by test preparation and logistics?

• Professional development workshops predominantly devoted to test prep?

• Loss of professional development to improve comprehensive education methods?

• Diminishing of electives, civics and social studies because they “aren’t tested”?

Second, deeper, long term costs

• Narrowing of curriculum caused by teaching to the test?

• Tracking kids from an early age based only on test scores?

• Increased high school dropout caused by such labeling and tracking?

• Loss of teacher creativity from having to teach to the test?

• Creative teachers leaving due to excessive testing?

• Potential outstanding teachers not entering the profession?

• Loss of innovative school administrators due to excessive testing demands?

• Effect on local school boards as they become conduits for federal and state mandates, instead of focusing on what’s best for their community?

Opponents of excessive testing believe that honest answers to these questions will reveal that the corporate, testing-based model of education has had a devastatingly expensive impact on students, families, teachers and local communities — in terms of education, finances, emotions and equal opportunity for low-income, minority, special education and English Language Learner students.

HB 2713 provides our local school districts with the opportunity to critically examine the effects of the corporate “reform” model of education, which relies on for-profit companies to make decisions about what’s best for your child, without consulting teachers, parents or students.

Will local districts look deeply and, perhaps, re-examine some of their long-held support for the data-based model of learning? Will they respect the letter and the spirit of the law?

This fall — right away before the Sept. 15 deadline — ask your children’s teachers how much these tests really cost them last year. Ask your principal, too. Tell your school board and superintendent now how you believe they should carry out the mandate of Lew Frederick’s HB 2713, the standardized testing audit bill.

This is a test. Let’s see how our local school districts answer the questions. — Rachel Rich, Larry Lewin and Roscoe Caron

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