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How Much Will NCLB Tests Cost? Choose a Number

WASHINGTON (AP) Tests mandated for the nation's students will cost $1.9 billion to $5.3 billion over the next seven years, according to the investigative arm of Congress.
Whether the burden falls on the federal government or the states taxpayer money, either way depends on what kinds of tests schools use, the General Accounting Office report says.

By 2005-06, all states must test students in grades three though eight in math and reading annually, and at least once during high school grades. The No Child Left Behind law also requires a science test at least once in elementary, middle and high school by 2007-08.

The report says if all states use multiple-choice tests only, the cost would be the low estimate of $1.9 billion. That's less than the $2.34 billion Congress must provide for testing under existing law.

"If a state elects to go with the Ferrari version of testing instead of the Chevrolet version required under No Child Left Behind Act, that cannot be blamed on the act," David Schnittger, spokesman for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said Thursday. "The bottom line is, every testing requirement is paid for."

But the estimate is $3.9 billion if states keep the types of tests they use now, with some offering multiple-choice and others including open-ended questions. Those open questions, which are more expensive to grade, are often seen as better measures of skills.

The cost grows to $5.3 billion if all states offer multiple-choice and essay questions.

The education law, championed by President Bush, drew bipartisan support. But the associated costs have since become a sticky issue. State leaders and Democrats say Congress has passed the buck; Republicans say opponents of the law exaggerate the costs.

Dan Fuller, a lobbyist for the National School Boards Association, said federal support won't be enough to support new mandates no matter what tests are used. Remediation, learning materials and salaries for high-quality teachers all tie in to testing expenses, he said.

"I do not dispute that they have added significant money. But there's a significant difference between what they provided and the costs districts will incur," Fuller said. "We're not in a position economically for states to pony up. They don't have it."

The Education Department disputed some of the report's central findings. Many testing costs would fall to the states irrespective of the new law, and the sources of federal funding were seriously understated, wrote Eugene Hickok, the education undersecretary.

— Associated Press
New tests for nation's students to cost $1.9B to $5.3B
USA Today
May 8, 2003


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