Thursday, April 9, 2009 | Switching from old assessments to new ones was meant to improve how San Diego Unified teachers gauge what children are learning, where they are lagging and how to help them. But the change was not painless. Nor was it free.
As of December, less than halfway through the school year, the school district had already spent $710,000 on testing — roughly 80 percent of what it shelled out on tests the entire previous year — according to a voiceofsandiego.org analysis of San Diego Unified data. Replacing two of the tests was estimated to cost more than $600,000 this year in new booklets and testing kits with score sheets and tablets that students read from. Other tests were expanded to more grades. Staffers have estimated that San Diego Unified will spend nearly twice as much on tests this year compared to last.
Costs will likely drop significantly next year because the materials do not need to be replaced yearly. And San Diego Unified is actually spending less than it originally budgeted on testing this school year, cutting back more than $700,000 on travel, supplies and other costs.
But budgets are bleeding in San Diego Unified and testing is already under the microscope. Unsatisfied with the limited and tardy data supplied by testing under No Child Left Behind, the school district imposes a number of additional tests of its own, aiming to zero in on problems quickly so teachers have time to fix them. Teachers are deeply divided on whether the tests are worth their time. Their complaints have already convinced the school district to pare back on testing, jettisoning two planned tests that they decided were redundant or unnecessary.
Despite the recent bump, testing costs have actually decreased over the past four years, according to data supplied by San Diego Unified, which include costs for printing, materials and the staffing for central offices devoted to testing.
Manpower and paperwork to get both state and school district tests out to schools, graded and gathered cost more than $1.1 million four years ago. Those costs dipped year by year to roughly $880,000 last school year — a 21 percent drop over time. Karen Bachofer, the district’s executive director of research and evaluation, chalked up the overall drop to San Diego Unified merging two testing departments into one and using its staffers more efficiently.