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7-23-13 Education Issues in the News
Education Week - PARCC Test Cost: Higher for Nearly Half the States

NJ Spotlight - Explainer: Abbott v. Burke, Changing the Rules for Funding Schools… A series of state Supreme Court rulings starting in 1985, Abbott v. Burke continues to shape and reshape education -- especially for New Jersey's poorest kids.

NJ Spotlight - New Charter School Looks Hopefully to the Future, Cherishes Its Past… Private academy in Newark is first in state to switch to become public charter.

Philadelphia Inquirer - New school bus safety recommendations expected

Education Week - PARCC Test Cost: Higher for Nearly Half the States

Catherine Gewertz

PARCC summative tests in mathematics and English/language arts will cost member states $29.50 per student, more than what half its member states currently pay for their tests, according to figures released today.

The new tests being designed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, are priced just below the $29.95 median level of spending on summative tests in those two subjects in the consortium's 20 member states. The cost estimates for the PARCC tests were posted today on its website.

The cost of tests being designed by PARCC and the other state testing group, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, are a topic of intense interest now as states try to decide their testing plans for 2014-15. That's when the new tests designed by each group are scheduled to be operational.

States are grappling with how to build support for different tests, something that can be difficult even without a price increase. But for almost half the states in PARCC, and one-third in Smarter Balanced, that job is even tougher since the tests will cost more than what they're currently spending.

Smarter Balanced issued its pricing estimates in March, and its officials said they are less expensive than what two-thirds of its 24 member states currently spend per student on summative tests.

Unlike PARCC, Smarter Balanced broke its cost into two options for states: One option, priced at $22.50 per student, would include only its summative tests. The other, which includes summative tests as well as interim and formative tests, costs $27.30 per student.

Different Pricing Models

Smarter Balanced also has a different model of services than PARCC. In Smarter Balanced's model, the consortium is responsible for providing some services, such as developing test items and the test-administration platform, and producing standardized reports of results. States are responsible for others, including delivering the assessment, providing help-desk services, and, in particular, scoring the tests. (In PARCC, the consortium, rather than individual states, will score the tests, according to PARCC spokesman Chad Colby.)

Smarter Balanced states could opt to score their tests in various ways, such as hiring a vendor or training and paying teachers as scorers, or combining those methods. Smarter Balanced will design scoring guidelines intended to make scoring consistent, said Tony Alpert, the consortium's chief operating officer.

Smarter Balanced's cost projections include both the cost of the services that the consortium will provide and the costs of the services the states will provide themselves or through vendors.

Here's how Smarter Balanced test costs break down:

• For the "basic system" (only summative tests):
Total per-student cost of $22.50 = $6.20 (consortium services) + $16.30 (state-managed services)

• For the "complete system" (summative, interim and formative tests):
Total per-student cost of $27.30 = $9.55 (consortium services) + $17.75 (state-managed services)

PARCC's pricing includes only the two pieces of its summative tests: its performance-based assessment, which is given about three-quarters of the way through the school year, and its end-of-year test, given about 90 percent of the way through the school year.

Its price does not include three tests that PARCC is also designing: a test of speaking and listening skills, which states are required to give but don't have to use for federal accountability; an optional midyear exam; and an optional diagnostic test given at the beginning of the school year. Pricing for those tests will be issued later, according to Colby.

If states want to give paper-and-pencil versions of the PARCC tests, which will be available for at least the first year of its administration, that will cost $3 to $4 per student more, according to a frequently-asked-questions document prepared by the consortium.

Smarter Balanced's computer-adaptive assessment and its performance tasks are given during the last 12 weeks of the school year. Its interim test and formative tools, if states choose to purchase the package that includes them, can be used anytime schools and teachers wish.

A Value Proposition?

States vary widely in what they spend for assessment, so they find themselves in varied positions politically as they contemplate moving to new tests.

Figures compiled for the two consortia's federal grant applications in 2010 show that in the Smarter Balanced consortium, some states paid as little as $9 per student (North Carolina) for math and English/language arts tests, while others paid as much as $63.50 (Delaware) and $69 (Maine). One state, Hawaii, reported spending $116 per student.

In the PARCC consortium, per-student, combined costs for math and English/language arts tests ranged from $10.70 (Georgia) to $61.24 (Maryland), with a median of $27.78.

Comparing what one state spends on tests to what another spends—and comparing current spending to what PARCC or Smarter Balanced tests could cost—is difficult for many reasons. One is that states bundle their test costs differently. Some states' cost figures include scoring the tests; others do not. Some states' figures include tests in other subjects, such as science. Some states' figures lack a subject that the two consortia's tests will cover: writing.

Most states' tests are primarily or exclusively multiple choice, which are cheaper to administer and score. Some give more constructed-response or essay questions, making the tests costlier to score but of greater value in gauging student understanding, many educators believe.

The two consortia are keenly aware that states might find it difficult to win support for the new tests if they represent increases in cost or test-taking time. They are taking pains to point out what they see as the value their tests will add compared with current state tests.

A Power Point presentation assembled by PARCC, for instance, notes that its tests will offer separate reading and writing scores at every grade level, something few state tests currently do. It says educators will get test results from its end-of-year and performance-based tests by the end of the school year, while in many states, it's common for test results to come back in summer, and even, in some cases, the following fall. Echoing an argument its officials have made for many months, the PARCC presentation says that its tests will be "worth taking," since the questions will be complex and engaging enough to be viewed as "extensions of quality coursework."

It also seeks to make the point that $29.50 isn't a lot to spend on a test, noting that it's about the same as "a movie date" or "dinner for four at a fast-food restaurant," and less than what it costs to fill the gas tank of a large car half full.

Alpert, Smarter Balanced's chief operating officer, noted many of the same points, as well as the "flexibility" of SBAC's decentralized approach to scoring and administration, which offers states many options for how much to do themselves and how much to have vendors do. If states choose to draw heavily on teachers for scoring, he said, they derive an important professional-development value from that.

"Comparing costs isn't really accurate," he said. "States will be buying new things. It's like comparing the cost of a bicycle to the cost of a car. A car costs more, but what are you buying? [Smarter Balanced tests] are definitely a better value and a better service. They're going to give teachers and policymakers the information they've been asking for."

The role of artificial intelligence in scoring tests remains an open question in both consortia. If they determine that it is reliable enough to play a large role in scoring, test costs could decline.


Assessment Cost Estimates

PARCC Summative Assessments: Published on PARCC (http://parcconline.org)

Home > The PARCC Assessment > PARCC Assessment Design > Assessment Cost Estimates

The PARCC summative tests in reading, writing and math are estimated to cost $29.50 per student for computer-based administration of the assessment. That is the total annual cost to test each student in these areas.

The estimated cost includes an ELA/Literacy test and math test, both of which will include a performance-based assessment and end-of-year assessment.

  • The performance-based assessment will be administered about three-quarters of the way into the school year (early spring) and will capture critical-thinking and problem-solving skills that generally aren’t measured well on current tests.  Math will focus on reasoning and modeling real-world problems. The ELA/literacy test also asks students to write short analytical essays based on their readings.
  • The end-of-year assessment will be administered near the very end of the year (late spring). In math, students will be asked to demonstrate further understanding of key concepts and mathematical fluency. The ELA/literacy end-of-year test centers on reading comprehension.
  • Taken together, the tests will address a longstanding concern among educators and parents about large-scale student assessments — they have been unable to capture some of the most important skills that we strive to develop in students. 

About half of the states in the PARCC consortium currently spend more on their summative tests, while the remaining states spend less.  However, the median cost for the current assessments used by the PARCC states is $29.95 per student for both English language arts (ELA)/literacy and math.  Although the PARCC tests generally cost about the same as the average current state tests, they will be higher quality and include multiple performance tasks in both ELA/literacy and math.

For more information:

Diagnostic and Formative Assessments

Cost estimates for the optional PARCC Diagnostic, Mid-Year, and K-1 Assessments will be available soon.




NJ Spotlight - Explainer: Abbott v. Burke, Changing the Rules for Funding Schools… A series of state Supreme Court rulings starting in 1985, Abbott v. Burke continues to shape and reshape education -- especially for New Jersey's poorest kids.

John Mooney | July 23, 2013


The state Supreme Court's landmark school-equity rulings starting in 1985, referred to in shorthand as "Abbott," as in Abbott district or Abbott school. Actually a series of decisions made over the past 30 years, Abbott remains the centerpiece of how the state funds its urban and suburban schools. Abbott's core principle is to ensure that schools in 31 of the New Jersey's poorest communities receive the "thorough and efficient" system of education guaranteed by the state constitution.

What it means

With a legal history dating back to the early 1970s, the Abbott rulings remain one of the most important set of decisions on school equity in the country and are still a major force in New Jersey. It was Abbott that led to universal preschool in the state’s poorest districts, the state’s massive school construction and renovation program, and the addition of extra programs and funding for the disadvantaged initiatives in and outside Abbott schools.

Recent decisions

In 2009, the court ruled as part of its Abbott v. Burke deliberations that the state’s existing school funding formula met its constitutional standards under Abbott, and then two years later in 2011, ordered that Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature had to provide an additional $477 million to Abbott districts to meet the provisions of the funding law.

The Abbott districts

·         Asbury Park

·         Bridgeton

·         City of Burlington

·         Camden City

·         East Orange

·         Elizabeth

·         Garfield

·         Gloucester City

·         Harrison

·         Hoboken

·         Irvington

·         Jersey City

·         Keansburg

·         Long Branch

·         Millville

·         Neptune

·         New Brunswick

·         Newark

·         Orange

·         Passaic City

·         Paterson

·         Pemberton

·         Perth Amboy

·         Phillipsburg

·         Plainfield

·         Pleasantville

·         Salem City

·         Trenton

·         Union City

·         Vineland

·         West New York

A little history

Abbott dates back to an earlier case in the 1970s, Robinson v. Cahill, in which the court’s order for sufficient funding led the Legislature to enact New Jersey's first income tax to help fund the state’s poorest schools.

Who’s Abbott and Burke?

The original class-action suit was filed on behalf of 20 families from Camden, East Orange, Irvington, and Jersey City. The alphabetical list of plaintiffs started with Raymond Abbott, a Camden City student at the time. The defendant was Fred G. Burke, the state’s education commissioner first appointed by former Gov. Brendan Byrne.

Today's key players

Abbott put the Newark-based Education Law Center on the map as arguably the state’s strongest and most outspoken advocate for low-income students and schools, a position it still enjoys.

The center is headed up by David Sciarra, its executive director and frequent antagonist of governors -- especially the current one. Christie remains hostile to the Abbott decision, and the governor has vowed to remake the state Supreme Court and ultimately reverse its decrees. His education commissioner, Chris Cerf, opposes Abbott's continued requirement for additional funding to the poorest districts, saying the money has not resulted in significant improvements.

Key decisions and documents

Abbott II (June, 1990): Court finds funding disparity between rich and poor districts violates constitutional guarantee of a “thorough and efficient” system of education.

Abbott V (May 1998): Court orders preschool and school reforms and building construction and repairs.

Abbott XX (May 2009): Court finds existing School Funding Reform Act constitutional. : Court orders the state to fully fund SFRA (School Funding Reform Act) for the Abbott districts



NJ Spotlight - New Charter School Looks Hopefully to the Future, Cherishes Its Past… Private academy in Newark is first in state to switch to become public charter.

John Mooney | July 23, 2013

Fiorella Serrano concedes it will be hard to break the habit of what she says when she answers the phone at school.

“I am so used to saying St. Philip’s Academy, and now its Philip’s Academy Charter School,” said the longtime teacher and parent at the Newark school. “Just seeing that name come off the gym wall was something.” The name change may be the least of it, as St. Philip’s Academy – a Newark private school for 25 years – officially becomes the public Philip’s Academy Charter School this fall with the state’s approval of its final charter last week.

The change represents New Jersey’s first -- and so far only -- charter conversion from either a private or traditional public school.

A host of challenges will come with the transition, ranging from the change of stationery and new signs to revamped requirements for teachers and administrators and mandates for accountability for student testing and school budgets.

And then there’s just the fact that it will no longer be its own private school, a culture that the school community held dearly and has vowed will remain intact.

“Luckily the laws allow us to change gradually, the best of all worlds,” said Dale Anglin, a parent and the inaugural chairwoman of the charter’s board of directors. “But let’s be clear, we are moving to the charter world, and that’s very different than the private world.”

The school, located in a refurbished warehouse in Newark’s Central Ward -- complete with a roof garden -- will not see much change from the start.

As allowed under the law, most of its 300-plus students from first grade through eighth grade will be allowed to remain at the school until they leave or graduate.

But as a charter, it will add a new kindergarten class each year from the general population. In the first year, half of the seats will be taken by siblings of existing students, as allowed under the law; for the remaining 19 seats, there was a lottery that drew nearly 200 names.

The transition for teachers may be even more significant. Now that they work at a public school, the school’s staff of 60 teachers and others will fall under certification and tenure requirements that did not apply to the private school.

About one-third of the teachers are currently not certified in New Jersey, and that will mean more classes and training. The school has set up a plan for each teacher, and administrators have said they are confident the certifications will be in place within two years, as required.

The teachers will also face the great burden that their public peers have felt for years: state testing. While the school previously did its own standardized testing, the state’s NJASK exams are administered during a four-day period each year, with results reported publicly.

Serrano, a longtime fourth-grade teacher who will move to head teacher next year, said that won’t be too much of a problem for teachers, but it will certainly be a period of transition. She said training has already begun, with teachers trying to weave test-taking skills into the curriculum and to explain the impending changes to parents.

“We are not going to be a school that is teaching to the test,” Serrano said. “We will be teaching the children to be test-takers within the curriculum so that they are ready for the next steps in their lives.”

Still, the biggest transition – and potential threat – is to what educators and parents interviewed for this story repeatedly talked about: the school’s culture.

The school’s leadership started before the charter application was even filed to talk with parents, teachers, financial donors and students about what it meant to be a public charter school. The lure was obvious, as fundraising was becoming more crucial to sustaining the school while tuition covered less and less of the costs. Private schools have long struggled to survive in urban centers like Newark.

“But the question was would our culture change, would we become a different school,” said Miguel Brito, the school’s executive director and lead founder.

It took a lot of long conversations, he said, and provisions were added into the charter itself to insure the kind of parental involvement that made the school strong, along with keeping the kinds of enrichment classes that set it apart.

“What we wanted was a mirror image of what we had,” Brito said.

Anglin, the parent and new board chairperson, said that the preparation and dialogue were invaluable.

“They spent a lot of time making sure people were invested in this, and as a parent, I really appreciated that,” she said. “At times, I wondered if they were over-communicating, but I think it went over very well.”

She and others said the school could rely on its history in Newark as a school founded through the Episcopal Church to give low-income residents an opportunity to get a quality education.

“We benefited from already being here 25 years,” Brito said. “We’re the same people doing the same things, and we saw we could stay intact because we are so strong.”

But Brito said he recognized that the rules are changing, that test scores will be more public, that it will have to accept the new students who come through its doors, and that its budget will be there for all to see.

The school has a strong core of private funders, he said, and they will continue to help with facilities costs faced by the school in its new building. State law prohibits state funding for charter facilities costs.

But the rest of the costs will be borne by local public school districts, currently an assortment of 31 districts from Newark to Old Bridge but what will eventually be whittled down once students graduate out to three districts -- Newark, Irvington and East Orange.

Each district will pay $9,000 to $15,000 per student, officials said, depending on the district’s own costs. That’s an improvement on the current tuition of about $7,500, with all but a small number of students getting some financial help.

Anglin said the first years will probably be the easier ones, with the staff and the student body largely intact. And the board has pledged that it will take measures of to maintain its quality of education in the future. She said the school has long been a place that has been accepting of all students and challenges.

“There is no downside for now,” she said. “There hasn’t been much change yet. The point is over time, in five years, when we have different kids and probably some different teachers, how will we manage the change then.”

Serrano’s daughter was among the last graduates of St. Philip’s Academy last spring and she expects her son to be in the first graduating class of Philip’s Academy Charter School in 2014.

With those personal touchstones in mind, she spoke with pride about both what has ended and what is beginning at the school.

“Won’t that be something?” she said

Philadelphia Inquirer - New school bus safety recommendations expected

JOAN LOWY, The Associated Press

Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 2:16 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal investigators are expected to make new school bus safety recommendations based on fatal accidents in New Jersey and Florida last year.

The National Transportation Safety Board meets Tuesday to consider a report on the probable cause of an accident in Chesterfield, N.J., in which a dump truck slammed into the back left side of a school bus, spinning the bus around until it collided with a traffic signal pole. An 11-year-old girl was killed and five other students - including the girl's two sisters - were seriously injured.

The board is also expected to consider findings from a previously concluded investigation of a crash in Port St. Lucie, Fla., in which a semi tractor-trailer truck hit a school bus, killing one student and seriously injuring four others.


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