The High Cost of Testing

noun_51139_ccMost of the time when I write about the “cost” of standardized testing, I’m thinking of the high price paid in terms of time and focus. All the human and instructional resources that are diverted to prepare for and support the assessment infrastructure in schools, plus the loss of opportunities for students to learn anything outside of a narrow group of testable topics.

However, there’s also the obscene amounts of money involved.

In just one state, Florida,

Agency staff said state-required tests cost $90 million each year. That includes the Florida Standards Assessments, college-readiness exams and others, but not required end-of-course exams chosen by each school district.

I’m betting that figure is just state expenses and doesn’t include additional costs incurred by local districts. It would also be interesting to know how much of that turns into profits for Pearson and other companies that administer and grade the various exams, plus sell a variety of test prep materials to schools.

Anyway, extend that to the rest of the country and you have a large chunk of change not being spent on actual student learning. And there’s more to come as the federal DOE forces new rules on teacher training programs.

The Education Department estimated that it would cost colleges and states about $42 million over 10 years to comply with the new data reporting requirements.

California education officials wrote in a separate letter that the proposed regulations would cost their state alone approximately $485 million each year. The California State University system said it would cost that institution approximately $4.7 million over 10 years to comply with the proposed rules.

While the reality, of course, probably lies somewhere in the middle, it’s still money that’s not being spent on instruction, either at the colleges or in the K12 schools of the states that fund most teacher prep programs.

Even worse, part of the DOE’s new regulations will tie teachers graduating from the prep programs to the “academic performance of the students they teach”. Which will further solidify the testing culture that is already the primary instructional focus of most schools in this country.

Image: Created by Laurène Smith for the Noun Project and used under a Creative Commons license.

A Dismal Future for EdTech

An article titled “12 Companies Transforming Education To Watch Next Year” might be an interesting read if not for the fact it appears in Forbes Magazine, which calls itself “The Capitalist Tool”. And that the list is a very odd mix, with very little truly “transformative”.

One example, ForClass is described as “platform and distribution network” that “increases [student] participation and accountability in the classroom while reducing prep time for professors”. Sounds like any number of learning management systems already in place, all of which do little more than support traditional teaching. Same for Flashnotes which is creating a “marketplace” for college students to sell their lecture notes.

On the other side of the classroom, Panorama Education, “run by two data heads from Yale”, wants to improve teacher evaluations by creating “scientifically valid” surveys that are “cheap, modern and effective”. But at least they have “impressive” backers like noted educators Mark Zuckerburg and Ashton Kutcher, so they must be on to something.

DonorsChooseAndela (which helps youth in Africa learn programming skills), Edmodo, Schoology, all doing good work in their respective spaces but are not shaking up the education process. 

And then there’s the media and Bill Gates’ favorite educational revolutionary, Khan Academy, which basically moves the classic fact-based lecture onto the web.

Transform education? Hardly.

I doubt any of the companies on this list will even produce the kind of extreme profits venture capitalists, or the capitalist tools who read Forbes, are looking for.

Certainly it’s hard to imagine they represent the kind of edtech that will be “taking by storm schools, students and the process of learning across the globe”.

Conspiracy Theory

This school year the IT department here in our overly-large school district implimented a new system that allows students to connect their personal devices to the network without all the paperwork previously required. As best I can tell, it works as advertised about 85% of the time (with lots of noise about the other 15%).

However, the interesting part is that this process seems to have triggered a growing number of students, especially in high school, who suspect that someone, somewhere in some mysterious district office is watching all their traffic and digitally inspecting all the files they’re carrying.

How charmingly naive!

I wonder if many of the same kids think about the vast amounts of data they volunteer every day to Google, Facebook, Instagram, their wireless carrier, SnapChat, Twitter, Candy Crush, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, and so many more.

Not to mention the little bits of data sucked up by the NSA and other government agencies, organizations for which they were never offered 34 pages of a terms of service or privacy policy followed by an “I accept” button to be clicked without reading.

For this particular conspiracy theory, we try to explain to them that our school system, as bureaucratic as it is, doesn’t have the resources to monitor all the traffic on our little corner of the internet.

However, I think the bigger issue we do not address is helping students (and their teachers) understand all that information about them that’s being collected and stored every second they are online. Not to mention the many other data points they contribute to the mix as a standard part of attending school.

The Year in Phony Education Reform

I’m not a big fan of year-end reviews, especially the many simple lists of events with little or no context. Which makes this year in “phony education reform” very different, and better, than most of the retrospectives I’ve read this season. All focused on the big lie that is charter schools.

In 2014, charter schools, which had always been marketed for a legendary ability to deliver promising new innovations for education, became known primarily for their ability to concoct innovative new scams.

What follows is a long collection of stories of financial waste, fraud, and abuse from charters all over the country. Problems about which the public seems clueless.

Surveys show the public generally doesn’t get what charter schools are and don’t understand whether they are private or public or whether they can charge fees or teach religion. Charter operators themselves have muddled their image by arguing successfully in numerous confrontations with legal authorities that “they are exempt from rules that govern traditional public schools, ranging from labor laws to constitutional protections for students.”

Charter operators want to take the public money while making their own rules about how it can be spent. With quality student learning being a lower priority and the return on investment.

Unfortunately, growth in the “business” of education, along with the greed and deception, will likely continue into 2015.

Forecasts about what 2015 will bring to the education landscape frequently foresee more charter schools as charter-friendly lawmakers continue to act witlessly to proliferate these schools. But make no mistake, the charter school scandals of 2014 forever altered the narrative about what these institutions really bring to the populace.

It would be nice if all the 2014 scandals, not to mention multiple studies showing kids in charters do no better than their peers in the public schools, would alter the narrative. But in the current political climate, I’m not hopeful.


I’ve decided I like the word “kerfuffle”. Wiktionary defines it as “A disorderly outburst, disturbance, commotion or tumult.”, but I have a better use.

It has a very silly sound, almost Seussian, so I think it should be narrowly applied to any kind of pointless or artifically contrived controversy.

The kind of stuff that fills most of the day on cable news.