Common Core testing goes smoothly but expenses mount

Common Core testing goes smoothly but expenses mount

(Calif.) Despite a near-flawless rollout of a new, computerized student testing system aligned with the Common Core, school officials are still hoping a revenue boost for transition costs will be forthcoming when Gov. Jerry Brown releases his updated budget plan next month.

California this week crossed the halfway point in conducting field trials of its new assessments, when just over half of the three million students lined up for testing, completed the task. And, state officials report, there were few – if any – major technological issues.

“We’re just so pleased that things have been moving along efficiently and effectively,” the California Department of Education’s Deb Sigman said Friday. “We’re hearing good reports from the field and, anecdotally, we’re hearing good stories from the kids.”

California is among a group of 21 states working together as the Smarter Balanced coalition to design, produce and test new computer-aided assessments aligned to new Common Core State Standards.

While the state will spend about $150 million this year and next on the Smarter Balanced testing process, the actual cost to schools to transition to teaching new standards and administering assessments online has been estimated by CDE to be $3 billion. Others claim it could be as high as $6 billion.

Either way, the cost is well above the one-time allocation of $1.25 billion Brown included in his 2013-14 budget to help schools make the transition.

Brown’s proposed 2014-15 spending plan includes no new money for schools for Common Core implementation. The governor does offer an additional $46.5 million to complete the Smarter Balanced assessment delivery, including a range of testing products that provide varied information on student achievement.

Meanwhile, schools will still be working to adjust curriculum, train staff, purchase new texts and upgrade technology to prepare students for the first official Common Core assessments next spring. (The field tests taking place now are not being scored but rather are being used to test the system itself.)

“We’re pushing for another $2 billion in program investment. That gets us closer to the full implementation level,” Naj Alikhan, spokesman for the Association of California School Administrators, wrote in an email to Cabinet Report. “We’re suggesting [Gov. Brown] use some of the one-time resources he has to close the Common Core implementation gap.”

Those “one-time resources” include revenues collected above and beyond what was projected in the administration’s budget.

Earlier this month, State Controller John Chiang reported that March revenues were running $470.9 million, or 7.9 percent, above estimates in the governor’s 2014-15 budget.

As of last Friday, Personal Income Tax collections for the biggest collection month were running just $321 million shy of the administration forecast of $10.989 billion, according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

Some estimates say that overall 2013-14 revenue could come in as much as $1.5 to $2 billion higher than predicted. Given the state’s many competing needs, it is unclear at this point what the governor’s priorities for the extra cash will be – although he has made clear his intention to beef up California’s reserve fund and pay down its “wall of debt.”

Schools, whose operations budgets were improved upon this year after nearly seven years of cut backs, continue to push onward with the work of transitioning to new standards and assessments, and, according to Sigman, are setting a good example for other states eyeing their progress.

While major snafus have occurred with implementation of other large, high-profile technology projects – President Obama’s healthcare enrollment site and the state’s own student data system a few years back – California’s massive field testing launch has gone off with only minor hiccups.

During the testing windows, which began March 25 and continue through June 6, all third through eighth graders in California will participate in the field trials, as will a selected sample of ninth, 10th and 11 th graders.

“It’s just been expected sorts of issues and common questions – like getting folks logged on and helping them find the right test,” said Sigman, who also serves as co-chair of the Smarter Balanced consortium.

“I do want to emphasize, also, that we went into this – although the timing was short – with as much planning and preparation as we could,” she added. “Our district leaders and our school leaders have been incredibly, I would say, almost gifted in terms of their ability to make this work. They were enthusiastic about this; they wanted to make it work; they wanted to move in this direction, and when you have that kind of willingness and that kind of collaborative effort, you can make a lot happen.”