Time will tell whether the new Common Core State Standards are a vital improvement in public education, or another reform that fizzled. One thing is clear: The tests won’t come cheap. At $29.50 per student, new tests aligned with the Common Core will cost over $2 million more than the Maryland state tests they will replace in grades 3 – 8 alone, according to available figures. While the Maryland State Department of Education absorbs the cost of state tests, it is the tip of the iceberg for local school systems scrambling to acquire technology to administer the new online tests next school year. The expected price tag for technology in Harford County Public Schools: $18.5 million.
Common Core State Standards, PARCC Tests
The Common Core State Standards in English and math were developed to raise academic standards and improve college and career readiness among the nation’s public school graduates with a single set of expectations for what students should learn in each grade. Established under the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Common Core standards have been adopted by 45 states. Maryland signed on in 2010.
A new Maryland state curriculum based on the Common Core is being implemented in all local school systems this school year. Tests for students in grades K-12 were developed by two multi-state consortia, including “PARCC” – Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. PARCC tests are being piloted in Maryland and other states this year and they will replace existing Maryland assessments beginning in 2014-15.
PARCC estimated in July that their summative tests will cost the states $29.50 per student, or over $2.2 million more than the cost of existing Maryland state tests for students in grades 3 – 8 alone. Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said in mid-September that the department had not yet “independently analyzed” the PARCC estimate. However, he said the PARCC tests will replace the summative Maryland School Assessments that currently cost $21 each for the approximately 260,000 test takers in those grades. Decisions are pending about whether PARCC tests will also replace the Maryland High School Assessments in algebra/data analysis and English, and whether the state may purchase additional tests offered by PARCC (such as diagnostic and mid-year tests), Reinhard said.
Summative testing is required by federal law. However, some states have recently opted out of PARCC tests due to cost, including the cost for technology to administer the online tests.
For Maryland school systems lacking the necessary technology, temporary relief may come in the form of a state waiver allowing for paper and pencil tests, but they are not a long term solution. “There will be a paper version available initially, however schools should plan to take the assessments online”, Reinhard said.
That could spell trouble for Harford County Public Schools, which according to school officials doesn’t have enough computers to administer the online tests next year to all students within the planned 20-day testing window. Shifting around existing computers just for PARCC testing would “shut down instruction,” according to Drew Moore, the school system’s director of information and technology. Moore’s comments came at a September school board meeting where he said that under the Common Core, technology was also necessary for daily instruction. “It is a complete shift in thinking from every aspect of the school system…” Moore said.
Bringing Harford County Public Schools up to speed will cost an estimated $18.5 million for the technology and related infrastructure alone, not including other costs such as professional development and staffing. Of the $18.5 million, $14.4 million is to meet the minimum standard of one computing device for every two students, based on preliminary PARCC guidelines and the average cost for a (tablet) device, Moore said. The rest, or $4.1 million, is to finish Wifi installation among the 53 school buildings. Currently, 10 of 11 high schools; 6 of 9 middle schools; and 6 ½ of 34 elementary schools have Wifi, according to Moore. Underscoring the importance of supporting infrastructure, Interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan said, “without the infrastructure, it doesn’t matter how many tablets a child has in their hand or a teacher has in their hand, we can’t access what we need to access for sound instruction and learning.”
Canavan, who took over from departing Superintendent Robert Tomback in July, said that her leadership team was working on all aspects of the Common Core and PARCC testing, but she left no doubt about the school system’s current state of readiness with regard to technology: “I don’t want anyone to think that we’re squared away as far as infrastructure and technology, because we definitely are not.”
In response to follow-up questions from The Dagger, Teri Kranefeld, HCPS manager of communications wrote in an e-mail that final guidance from PARCC, expected in October, will further define technical requirements and related costs: “…as the PARCC Guidelines have not been finalized, we do not have the technical specification that would help define minimal and recommended requirements the device must meet to accommodate the assessment, along with bandwidth and security requirements.”
Staffing, professional development, and other costs for the new tests are also still up in the air. Kranefeld wrote:
“Depending on the devices used, additional professional development would need to be provided for the School Testing Coordinators and teachers on the use of the devices for the administration of PARCC. In addition, teachers would have to incorporate the use of the device into instruction as students will need to learn adequate usage of the device prior to testing. As the PARCC Guidelines have not yet been finalized, additional staffing needs have not yet been determined. There are many variables still to be determined that would affect those needs. Content Supervisors are currently examining needs but will not have a full scope or needed resources until they have seen the PARCC items. Also, our local benchmark assessments, over 1,000 different assessments in the system, will need to be aligned with the Common Core curriculum.”
The Harford County Board of Education made a priority of the $18.5 million for PARCC and Common Core-related technology in the overall $80 million capital budget they approved on Monday for the fiscal year 2015. Funding of that request depends in large part on the county budget to be recommended in April by gubernatorial candidate and Harford County Executive David Craig. Craig’s position on the Common Core? It was a “great mistake.”