A watchdog website has blown the whistle on a study of the cost of new testing in Colorado. Critics say the study far understates the cost of testing.

 

Joshua Scharf of Watchdogwire writes:

 

A $74,000 commissioned report by Augenblick Palaich and Associates (APA), detailing the costs and time of statewide school assessments is coming under scrutiny for data analysis, key omissions, and potential conflicts of interest….

 

The APA Assessment Study Report analyzing the cost and time of Colorado assessments, was formally presented to Colorado’s HB14-1202 Standards and Assessments Task Force on Nov. 17, but critics charge it omitted outlying data, failed to account for necessary capital expenses, and is unclear in its calculation of student- and district-level averages.

 

Of 179 districts in Colorado, APA surveyed only 5 and excluded capital costs associated with new assessments. Here was one big omission: APA’s HB1202 report does not include costs incurred by schools for computers, infrastructure, and bandwidth necessary to take the state-mandated online PARCC and CMAS tests. Ah! So the contractor calculated the cost of testing but did not include the cost of computers, infrastructure, and bandwidth! Parents–and even some members of the state’s Task Force are calling for an investigation.

 

Scharf writes:

 

Technology costs associated with online testing are steep. This Pioneer Institute report shows average testing costs $1.24 billion pale in comparison to technology costs $6.27 billion, nationally. Many Colorado districts have already spent millions just to meet the technological demands, and although the HB1202 APA survey did collect “some information” on technology costs to schools, again, they refused to show it. Task force members have repeatedly asked to see the quantitative data collected by the APA survey both on reported testing time and cost.

 

APA’s private Draft report records significantly different numbers from its public report. The “Private Draft” reports testing costs for state, federal, and local tests to range from $55 million to $130 million while the study that the public sees reports the weighted average cost of testing as $61 million, and doesn’t explain that the range was double that….

 

Despite the competition placed by the CDE for study, APA’s was the sole proposal received. While 109 other bidders expressed interest, some demurred, commenting that the $74,000 budget was too small for a study of proper scope.

 

In addition, according to this CDE document, the task force itself expressed many concerns on APA’s proposal, including conflict of interests stemming from APA’s previous work with the Bill Gates-funded Colorado Education Initiative (CEI). CEI paid APA to do a similar assessment study just two years ago. The task force worried this prior work with CEI “could slant the focus and, consequently, the results of the HB1202 study”. They also cited APA’s tendency to not use quantitative data, resulting in reports based mostly on “perceptions and opinions, rather than actual school and district budgets and expenditures.”

 

Even more fascinating than the report were the public comments, most of which expressed strong opposition to the time and costs of new testing. Read them here.

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