By Dr. Franklin Shumake
Georgia spent $4 million in 1995 (test development, administration and training) evaluating students using Georgia-designed tests that compare Georgia students with other Georgia students. Moreover, the tests are geared specifically to a Georgia curriculum. Ironically, this testing program is not only very costly, it perpetuates mediocrity and prevents parents and teachers from knowing how Georgia students compare with students from other states and regions.
Individual Scores and National Comparisons
Student achievement will improve in Georgia on a student-by-student basis. Teachers can best assist students when they have a clear picture of the academic strengths and weaknesses of individual students. A testing program should provide teachers with this data, enabling them to teach a student rather than a class. A useful testing program would also ensure that Georgia students in a particular grade are being taught what students in a similar grade elsewhere in the nation are being taught.
Despite the large amount of money being spent on testing in Georgia, the vast majority of the tests do not yield individual student scores. Most of these tests use a method called “matrix sampling testing,” where each student only takes some parts of the test, not the entire test. Consequently, there is no “student” score for these tests. Results are only reported for schools, school systems and state averages.
Student testing should provide at least three sets of information: (1) a profile that can be used by teachers and parents of the strengths and weaknesses of each student; (2) a profile of the strengths and weaknesses of each class and grade level within a school, which can be used in improving instruction; and (3) a profile of achievement in each content area (math, science, language arts and social studies), which can be used in comparing students, school systems and states across the country.
Today, only 10 percent of the state’s testing budget ($475,000) is used to administer tests that can provide national comparisons of students. And even these standardized tests (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) have been abbreviated to save time so the state can continue to write and administer its own Curriculum Based Assessment (CBA) tests.
Testing Every Year at No Additional Cost
Currently, Georgia tests its students only in grades kindergarten, 3, 5, 8 and 11, using Georgia-designed tests that provide only Georgia comparative data. This testing costs $4 million annually ($10 per student tested).
For fewer dollars, Georgia could test every student every year, grades K-12, in all major content areas (math, science, reading and social sciences). Moreover, these tests could provide personal student profiles as well as local, state and national comparisons. The current cost of the nationally standardized curriculum achievement tests in math and reading is only $1.38 per student (total cost of $475,000). By expanding the current test (reading and math) to include additional content fields (science and social sciences), the total cost would still be only $3 per student. Therefore, by adopting such a regimen, the state could save money, test all students and provide personal profiles and scores for all students.
Even if Georgia continues its current testing program for now, it should competitively bid all testing, and a thorough analysis of the current Georgia testing contracts should be done. At a minimum, this analysis would show the number of permanent staff that have been hired, the annual rent of vendors for which the state is paying, the machines the state has purchased for its vendors and the excessive training costs that are necessary as a result of using a test which has been developed for a single state. Such an analysis would be quite enlightening.
The current kindergarten test and the current writing tests are very useful in demonstrating the peril of sole-source contracting. Because these tests are designed, written, scored and continuously revised for Georgia students only, they are expensive. Kindergarten assessment costs $4.65 per student (total cost of $465,000), and writing assessment costs $4.15 per student (total cost of $1,431,000). If the tests were bid competitively, there would be numerous, equally useful tests available from various testing companies at considerably less cost.
Every year that Georgia delays in changing the state testing program costs additional money, perpetuates a system that provides inadequate (in many instances, useless) scores, and requires hundreds of thousands of students to spend over a million hours taking tests that do not yield an individual student score.
Georgia should determine at once what testing program it will implement to ensure that we are effectively preparing our students for productive futures. The characteristics of this testing program should include the following:
- Individual achievement scores in the basic content fields (math, science, reading, social sciences).
- Individual student achievement scores, with a diagnostic profile of each student’s responses in all sub-topics of a content field.
- Student achievement scores that provide comparisons among schools, school systems, regions and the various states of the nation.
- Student achievement scores that are “normed” on national populations and on common content expectations. There is no Georgia arithmetic, Georgia chemistry or Georgia English.
- Career aptitude testing should be added. Eighty-five percent (85%) of Georgia’s students do not complete college, yet Georgia does not administer a career aptitude test at any grade level. If a career aptitude test were administered in the 8th grade, for example, the results could be used to help guide students, teachers and parents in making more appropriate decisions about the high school program for each student.
We have neglected to make a decision on student testing in recent years, and Georgia’s current student testing program reflects both the 1970s, when we didn’t want national comparisons, and the 1980s, when we were only interested in comparing school systems. Today, we want to help individual students improve their achievement, and we also want data to help ensure accountability for schools, school systems and the State of Georgia.
We need to spend less on testing and get better results. It can and should be done.
Dr. Franklin Shumake is professor of education at Piedmont College located in Demorest, Georgia. The Georgia Public Policy Foundation is a nonpartisan, member-supported research and education organization based in Atlanta, Georgia, that promotes free markets, limited government and individual responsibility.
Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (November 8, 1996) Permission is hereby given to reprint this article, with appropriate credit given.