- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A recent report from the federal General Accounting Office found that Virginia will spend about $43 million for new standardized tests from 2002 to 2008, but the state expects to save millions of dollars by using only multiple-choice questions.

Standardized testing is the cornerstone of the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush’s sweeping education initiative that was passed by Congress in January 2002. To comply, Virginia must develop reading and math tests for fourth-, sixth- and seventh-graders, or risk losing about $300 million annually in federal funding.

Nationwide, states could spend $1.9 billion to $5.3 billion to meet the law’s conditions, the report said.

Virginia already tests students in reading and math in the third, fifth and eighth grades and at the end of some high school courses as part of the Standards of Learning (SOL) program.

The new tests, which will consist solely of multiple-choice questions, are expected to debut by the 2005-06 academic year, said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.

The GAO report estimated the state will spend at least $12 million to develop the new exams. But the administration, scoring and reporting of results will cost about $31 million, according to the report.

Those costs will be covered fully by federal grants, Mr. Pyle said. The state received about $7.9 million for the 2002-03 school year from the U.S. Department of Education and about $8.3 million for each of the next two years.

The potential cost of compliance ranges widely because some types of test questions, especially those with more elaborate answers, are more expensive to grade.

Tests that offer strictly multiple-choice questions cost less than tests that require short essays or fill-in-the-blank responses because they can be graded by a computer and returned quickly. Longer, handwritten answers often must be reviewed by human graders.

Because Virginia’s new tests will consist exclusively of multiple-choice questions, the state will spend about $43 million on the new exams, the report said.

If the state relied on more open-ended responses, using a format similar to the current SOL exams, the tests would cost between $60 million and $129 million, according to the report.

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