New Common Core Tests Cost Millions More Than State Tests They Replace; Harford County Public Schools Requests $18.5 Million for Technology to Administer New Online Tests

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.”


  1. Dilema dude says

    Well Burbey, you have been pushing this common core shit on us now, and want raises. You cant have both. Which is it.

    • JJ says

      Burbey has not been pushing Common Core. He has made it a point to refer to the expenditures (technology, professional development, etc.) Common Core requires as an example of local government not funding the school system at adequate levels to meet the requirements necessary to provide students with a first class education.

      • Karl Marx says

        No, wrong. Commissar Burbey has been preaching the glories of the revolution. You are a counter revolutionary. You must be re-educated. We do not need free thinkers, they are a danger to the revolution. Common Core punishes free thinkers! They are a threat to the glory of the people.

  2. K says

    When will parents of school age children wake up? Just think of the capital expenditures missed out on, $20.5 million to be exact, thanks to yet another new and improved education initiative.

    • Even Steven says

      The 20.5m (or 18.5) as this article states is going to get us closer to leveling the playing field among schools that do -and do not- have these resources. It’s a well overdue step. Wether or not you like CC, creating a sense of urgency for equity IS a positive side effect. It deserves an even higher place in the CIP than it already has.

      • K says

        While the article states the $2,000,000.00 cost for tests will be absorbed by the MDE, I have my doubts trusting anything state run. What ever the case, that’s how I arrived at $20.5 million; 18.5 mil plus 2 mil.

      • Sam Adams says

        Exactly, $20 million will get you a new HVAC system at a middle/high school. Its amazing how everything the government buys is astronomically expensive.

  3. Kharn says

    Tablets are horrible devices for reading large passages of text, referring to the text while composing an answer, typing quickly, doing complex math problems without a specifically-tailored application, etc. What will the fire marshal say when each classroom has a mass of extension cords and surge protectors running between desks during testing, once the batteries have started to fail and are not able to complete a testing period from a full charge (or even more likely, given the level of competence I’ve come to expect in government and schools, the test time exceeds the battery capacity of the brand new tablets on day 1)? What are the security implications for delivering tests over wifi and maintaining test integrity?

    The digital revolution is great in many areas except this one.

    • TRUTH says

      Glad you weren’t too dependent on your grammar book growing up. It took you all the way to Atlantis.

    • Kharn says

      Because installing 4-12 access points (depending on building layout, construction materials, etc) in strategic locations is cheaper and easier than wiring 35 ethernet jacks to each classroom and the associated switches, space for network cabinets on each floor, etc. Very few tablets have ethernet ports, and an adapter is required on many ultra-portable laptops.

      • Farmer Dick says

        Pen and Paper worked for me. What’s the reason for “WiFi”, tablets, ultra portable laptops in schools?

        • Reader L says

          The reason is that PARCC assessments are to taken on-line.

          Also, to answer another question, WiFi is necessary for students to have access to the internet to be able to do research etc. In many schools, it’s limited to a computer lab or one or two computers in each school. WiFi would make it accessible to all students’ computers.

        • Russell Kovach says

          Quill and parchment worked for the founding fathers, perhaps we should get rid of our pens and paper and go back to the technology of the 1780’s for all Government work???

      • Four Loko says

        Without the basics, your precious tablet is just a toy. Like a big fancy new school, if its full of shit, or shitty teachers, whats the point.

  4. Big Keg says

    I guess we’re heading towards an era where the next generation wont be able to read text unless it’s on a 4″ screen. I’m sure I’ll get a lot of thumbs down thinking we need to still teach kids how to use handwriting, but that’s OK.

    The upside of these great gadgets and doodads is that it’ll be so much easier for each kid to cheat on their classwork, no more “copying” off the other goober word for word handwriting with #2 pencils.


    • Kharn says

      It is a nation-wide problem. A growing number of younger people can’t read or write in cursive as it takes too much time to teach in elementary school.

  5. costlycommoncore says

    Common Core is a VERY COSTLY reinvention of the exisiting wheel. If we want to pay the test makers millions of dollars to create tests, rewrite curriculums, etc- and this is all we are going to do from now on- what is the point in having teachers at all!!!???? Teachers aren’t going to have time to do anything but read the instructions in the guide to train kids to do well on the test and then give the test. Where is the autonomy and respect teachers have earned through years of experience and professional training that makes them qualified to determine a students success in a subject or not? Nevermind differentiaion- which is what we REALLY need- INSTEAD-let’s force EVERYONE to take the exact same tests and meet the exact same standards because you know- EVERYONE is going to do the same exact carreer following high school? Never mind personalizing education to build acheievement and discover and nurture the talents of the individual children!!
    AND make no mistake- this is all about the push to privatize public education- and for the testing companies to make a hefty fortune on the backs of our students and teachers.
    Don’t buy into it. OPT OUT while you have the option.
    We are watching the ruin of public education as we know it.

  6. says

    First, Common Core is one component in the education reform that is meant to privatize public education taking away the people’s right to having schools in their communities that provide a balance of information in lessons and that include regional history and social science learning, that have teachers with individual teaching styles providing an influx of democratic learning experiences. When you have a set of institutions like Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, MIT writing these lessons—-we’ll call them the 1%—and the goal is to have all students in the country sitting in front of computers getting these same lessons in online format with selected lecturers in lieu of teachers….which is the goal… have an autocratic system of education, not a democratic one. You also have the cheapest method of providing education to 90% of the US population. When schools become businesses, cheap and canned are two terms that maximize profits.
    This is what Common Core is all about. Where a standardized lesson for STEM is not horrible, as these subjects involve facts, standardizing social sciences, civics, history……which they are feverishly working to do….will produce the above goal. So what are all the testing and evaluations for when in the 1950-1970s we had the best school system in the world and the best educated—–public school grads back then were the CEOs of America’s best performing industries—-without all of this?

    The testing and evaluation are part of making US schools into businesses. The results will determine how much value a school chain will have and the data collected will be sold to education businesses to enhance profit for the former ‘public schools’. It is yet another personal information data sale that will boost profits for the education businesses being created by this reform.

    Now, have you heard me say anything about student achievement and quality education? None of this has anything to do with preparing these 90% of public schools children to excel. It only readies them for entry-level work. Democratic education is about creating leaders and people ready to engage as citizens. Autocratic education makes sure this does not exist and instead just readies people to work.