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What Teachers Want to Know: When Will Testing Company Employees Get Laid Off?

Everyone has to feel the pain of budget cuts—except the companies being paid millions to make standardized tests.

This spring, school districts across the nation sent record numbers of layoff notices to teachers, all in the name of balancing education budgets. But, there's one area that most states and districts aren't cutting—the cost of standardized tests. States and local school districts pay testing companies millions of dollars annually, and with calls to evaluate teachers according to tests results and expand the number of subjects tested coming from the White House and Department of Education, the amount of cash being shelled out to testing companies is sure to skyrocket.

Here's how it works: In order to be compliant with the federal No Child Left Behind Act—which requires student testing—states first pay consultants and testing companies to write multiple choice tests aligned with individual state standards. Once kids take the tests, the states then pay those same companies to score them. The federal government does kicks in some cash to help cover the costs, but thanks to cutbacks, that money doesn't defray the whole expense or pay for the people districts and states hire to manage the entire process.

For example, in 2011-2012, the nation's most populous state, California, has budgeted $74,485,000 for the NCLB mandated STAR test. California also wants to spend another $72,752,000 on the California High School Exit Exam, the CAHSEE, and another $58,314,000 on CAHSEE test prep. That adds up to $205,752,000.

With roughly 6,340,000 students enrolled in the state's schools, the official cost breaks down to about $32 per student. That might not sound like much, but since taking standardized tests or high school exit exams hasn't even been proven to increase student achievement, at a time of budget crisis, every dollar counts. Plus, experts put the real amount California spends annually "to administer, defend, tutor, and teach to the CAHSEE beginning in seventh grade at upwards of $550 million annually." And, keep in mind, these numbers don't even begin to include the amount every local district spends on assorted quarterly standardized assessments.

Meanwhile, over the past three years, California's K-12 schools and colleges have been hit with $20 billion in budget cuts and more than 30,000 teachers—people that actually work with kids and, you know, teach them—have been laid off. Another 30,000 teachers have been pink slipped this year alone. If each of these teachers earns an average of $50,000, that's $150 million needed in the budget to keep them in the classroom—far less than the real cost of the CAHSEE.

What's happening in California isn't an exception. But to save money and prevent teacher layoffs, some states are now making the bold move of cutting all tests except those mandated by NCLB. In Colorado, budget crunched lawmakers on both sides of the aisle plan to drop extraneous standardized tests and nix the mandatory ACT exams high school juniors are currently required to take. It'll save the state $20 million.

But with standardized tests coming for subjects like art, social studies and science—and a slew of education reformers saying that evaluating teachers according to test results is the best approach—cutbacks like those in Colorado are sure to be few and far between. But, maybe all the laid off teachers will go work for the testing companies. Given their growth, they're sure to be hiring.

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