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What Will New English-Language-Proficiency Tests Cost?

Now that we know how much states are likely to have to pony up per student for the new PARCC tests (and also Smarter Balanced tests), similar cost questions are being raised about the new English-language-proficiency exams being designed to connect to the common standards.

And the answer at this point is a big question mark.

After the hoopla this week around how much it's going to cost states to give the PARCC tests—half of those in the consortium will pay more for the new tests than what they spend currently on existing state tests—I queried the two federally funded ELL assessment groups about price tags for the new generation of English-language-proficiency assessments they are designing.

Neither the 33-state consortium known as ASSETS, or Assessment Services Supporting ELs through Technology Systems, nor the 11-state group known as ELPA 21, or English Language Proficiency Assessment for the 21st Century consortium, had any estimates at this stage. While ASSETS—which is being led by the World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment Consortium, or WIDA—is further along in its design and development than ELPA 21, both groups got started well after PARCC and Smarter Balanced began work on the common content assessments.

The ASSETS system is building on, in some ways, the current English-language-proficiency test used by the 31 states in the WIDA consortium. The base line price for states to use that testing system known as ACCESS for ELLs is $23 per student, said Jesse Markow, the consortium's director of communications and business development. Included in that cost is a screener test for identifying and placing ELLs, a summative test for accountability and reclassification purposes, five different score reports, and lots of professional development for member states, among other features.

ACCESS for ELLs is a paper-and-pencil test, while the new test, ASSETS, will be computer-based. Markow said the switch to a technology-based administration of the test would not necessarily make it more expensive. A paper-and-pencil version will have to be continued through a transition period and probably in an ongoing way as an accommodation for certain students, which could also affect cost, he said.

"We just don't know at this point," Markow said.

The new English-language-proficiency tests are set to debut in the 2015-16 school year.

Folks at ELPA 21 had no estimates to offer either.

In California, school districts receive $5 per student from the state to pay for the CELDT, the state's current English-language-proficiency test, according to the state department of education. The state—which dropped out of ELPA 21 earlier this year to go its own way to develop a test based on its newly adopted English-language-development standards—doesn't know at this stage what the new assessment system will cost.

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