Estimate of proposed school tests is $15.5 million

November 18, 1997|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF

State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick revealed estimates yesterday showing proposed high school tests could cost up to $15.5 million a year, if students are eventually required to pass 10 exams to graduate.

The projections were given to the State Board of Education as it met to grapple once again with details of the tests.

The board will vote Dec. 10 on Grasmick's recommendations to tie the tests to a high school diploma and to phase them in over four years, or longer.

If the board adopts Grasmick's plan, the state would phase in the high-stakes tests beginning with three for the Class of 2004. That year, the price tag would be $3.8 million, based on a per test cost of $21 per pupil with an 80 percent pass rate. State spending would increase to $15.5 million by the 2006-2007 school year, at the earliest.

At that point, all high school students could be taking 10 out of 12 possible tests in English, math, science and social studies, depending on what timetable the board adopts.

If more than one-fifth of the students failed their tests, the costs could go higher because more retests would be required.

Grasmick's numbers fell well below the estimate of more than $23 million a year made last year by the Educational Testing Service, which did the early test designs for the State Department of Education. That was based on presumptions that 12 tests would be developed and given from the outset and that only half the students would pass, education officials said.

The education department is basing its more optimistic predictions on the number of students who now pass the less difficult functional tests on the first attempt.

Despite the lower price tag, critics of the proposed tests say the money would still be misspent. Maryland PTA President Carmela Veit said the money should be used for instruction in the primary grades, to ensure greater achievement in high school.

"The parents' voices have been discounted. There has been no resolution of serious concerns, money among them," she said.

But Grasmick presented two arguments to counter the allegations that money would be misspent.

The millions for testing would be a state appropriation for that purpose only, she said, and that money would not be spent on education otherwise.

And, even if students are required to take 10 tests, the total cost per student would be $210, only a tiny addition to the approximately $25,000 it takes to educate each student in public high schools.

"That's less than 1 percent to see if we did the job right," said board member Morris Jones.

The cost of testing was only one of the issues that board members wrangled with in a four-hour work session designed to pave the way to making decisions next month on the graduation tests.

Concerns ranged from timeliness of grades so that graduation is not delayed to remedial help for failing students and the associated costs to their school districts.

Pub Date: 11/18/97

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