Common Core Tests to Cost S.C. Taxpayers Millions

Published February 11, 2014

The 22-state consortium that is developing Common Core math and English tests for K-12 students will soon no longer be a cheap date for South Carolina taxpayers.

After a four-year, $175 million federal grant ends in September, member states will have to pay membership fees to continue with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), said its director of higher education collaboration, Jacqueline King.

The initial estimated cost to stay in the Smarter Balanced group would be $6.20 or $9.55 per tested student, depending on the level of services provided, King said. Based on a projected 52,000 to 55,000 students at each tested grade level in South Carolina, the membership fee in the first year would run $1.93 million to $2 million for grades 3 through 8 at the $6.20-per-student level, and $2.97 million to $3.15 million at the $9.55 level.

If grade 11 is added, as the S.C. Department of Education (DOE) has proposed, the projected maximum membership cost jumps to $2.38 million or $3.67 million, at each respective level.

Membership, Administering, Scoring Fees
In addition to membership fees, states also would be responsible for the costs of administering and scoring the assessment tests, King said.

“We think over time with having common assessments, it will help drive down costs,” she said.

DOE spokesman Dino Teppara said the cost of administering Common Core tests to approximately 380,000 students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 for 2014-15 is estimated to be $14.1 million, although he did not know offhand whether that includes membership fees. The tests are scheduled to be given over a five-week period during the last 12 weeks of the school year.

The projected $14.1 million tab is at least $2 million more than what it cost last year to administer the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (PASS) math and English language arts tests in grades 3 through 8 and the High School Assessment Program (HSAP) exam in grade 10, according to Teppara. Test costs for this school year are not yet available, he said.

Governor’s Conflicting Messages
Gov. Nikki Haley and Superintendent of Education Mick Zais, both Republicans, along with Gerrita Postlewait, then-state Board of Education president, reauthorized South Carolina’s “advisory” membership in SBAC in June 2011, according to a memorandum they signed. In June 2012, the Palmetto State changed its membership status to “governing.”

Recently on her Facebook page, however, Haley gave a conflicting message: “We have been trying to repeal Common Core since 2011 when we came into office. Whether its [sic] education, healthcare, or any aspect of government, we will fight to keep all standards state based, not federal.”

But King said neither Haley’s office nor the S.C. Department of Education has expressed any opposition directly to SBAC, adding, “[South Carolina state employees] have been very active in the consortium.”

The June 2012 press release noted Palmetto State representatives were serving on “three of the 10 state-led Smarter Balanced work groups.”

Haley spokesman Doug Mayer did not respond to requests for comment.

‘Stop the Bleeding’
Common Core supporters say the standards, developed by leaders from the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, will better prepare students for college and jobs.

“The Consortium involves educators, researchers, policymakers, and community groups in a transparent and consensus-driven process to help all students thrive in a knowledge-driven global economy,” the Smarter Balanced website states.

Opponents argue the standards are flawed and the consortium strips control from Palmetto State parents and teachers.

“This is all about not ceding authority to unknown persons in other states who have a different value system, different priorities, different philosophies—not ceding authority over the most precious thing we have, and that is the minds of our children,” said state Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston), the sponsor of a bill (S. 888) that would slow Common Core implementation.

The bill would require legislative approval of any new “state content standard or revisions to existing standards if the changes are developed by any entity other than the state Department of Education.

“It would stop the bleeding,” Campsen said.

Ending Implementation
Another bill (S. 300), proposed by state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, which was the subject of a Senate Education subcommittee hearing in February, would ban the state education board from implementing any Common Core standards.

Campsen is a cosponsor of that bill, but he says it faces an uphill battle this year: “It’s clearly going to be difficult to undo the standards that have been adopted.”

A state law requires new standards and assessments that will be used for accountability to “be developed and adopted upon the advice and consent of the Education Oversight Committee.”

The EOC, an 18-member group that includes Haley, has yet to vote on Common Core assessments. Melanie Barton, the EOC’s executive director, said the law doesn’t require EOC approval until after Common Core exams are “field tested’ this spring.

“We have no test items to look at or results,” she said.

Asked whether the state education board has seen any of the Common Core tests, Teppara said,, “The State Board of Education followed the typical approval process by approving the test design. The members never review actual test items because the items are secure.”

Rick Brundrett ([email protected]) is senior investigative reporter for The Nerve. South Carolina Policy Council analyst Dillon Jones contributed to this story. This article is reprinted with permissionImage by Melanie Holtzman.