USDE not too good at those essay questions

After the US Department of Education’s Race to the Top assessment hearing in suburban Chicago last month (meeting material here), I submitted my testimony because I was not able to present it in the 2 minutes I was given.

I also submitted two questions that I asked at the hearing, though USDE’s Ann Whelan had said at the outset that no questions from the public would be answered.

My questions were:

1) How will you prevent states or districts from misusing the new assessments for purposes for which they were not designed, as Chicago uses the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests for promotion and retention purposes?

2) What is the estimated cost to the federal government and to the states, districts, and schools to develop and implement the new assessments (including, for example, adequate computers and internet connectivity)?

Here’s what I got back in (non-)response from RTTT Assessment Program Officer Patrick Rooney:

Regarding your question about the use of assessment results in promotion and retention practices, the existing state tests in grades 3 through 8 and high school in English language arts and mathematics are required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended, to measure school accountability.  States involved in the consortia have committed to replacing the existing state assessments with those developed by the RTTA consortia once they are operational in 2014-15.  There is no federal statutory or regulatory requirement that state tests be used in decisions about individual student graduation or for student promotion or retention determinations.  That is, appropriately, a state or local determination.

In regards to your question about development and implementation costs, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) have received grants of $186 and $176 million, respectively, over four years to develop the new assessment systems.  This includes funding to develop the assessment items, research and evaluation to ensure high quality, and training for teachers and schools on the assessments and the new Common Core standards.  The full budgets and applications for PARCC and SBAC can be found at  As PARCC and SBAC progress further in their assessment development, more detailed on-going costs for administering the tests will become available.  As states transition to these assessment systems, they will not need to continue using state tests previously developed.  Funding once directed at administering those tests will likely be used to administer the consortia-developed assessments.  The Department believes that by working in a consortium of states, an economy of scale will reduce costs, such as with some technology support and administration and research and evaluation.  In addition, please keep in mind that there are many other existing funding opportunities that support this kind of work, for example the annual federal grant to each state to develop and administer its assessments systems (Illinois received a $13.2 million grant in fiscal year 2009) and the federal E-Rate program, which provides discounts to schools and libraries obtain affordable internet connectivity.  As of 2008, approximately 98 percent of schools have internet access (

I sent back these two “clarifying” questions:

My first question has to do with the problem that we have here in Chicago where the district uses the state assessment scores to make promotion and retention decisions even though the state test was not
designed for that purpose.

I understand that the federal program does not mandate the use of these tests for retention decisions. Since some districts have a history of using standardized tests inappropriately for purposes for which the tests are not designed, how will the federal government, which is deeply involved in the development of the new assessments, assure parents and others that these tests will not be available for improper uses?

In my second question, I specifically asked about department projections for the total cost to districts or states of the new assessments, and I included hardware (computers, internet connections, etc). These and other test-related expenses are very real costs that districts and schools will have to bear in order to use these tests. Parents and the public need to know approximately what that cost will be.

I’ll let you know what I hear back.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.