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How Much Is Testing Worth?

Budget season for schools today is year-round with a particular stressful emphasis in the spring as schools try to align expenses and revenues for the next year.  It’s a particularly difficult process in some states because revenue in terms of state aid (and maybe federal aid too thanks to the House) is unknown at this time.  Still, savvy superintendents and business officers are looking for ways to cut expenditures under worse case scenarios.

There’s only so much you can cut in terms of materials and supplies, so before you know it you’re down to program and personnel.  An interesting twist in New York State, however, is the proposal for the state to save $15 million by reducing regents exams to English language arts and mathematics.

Currently students can take regents exams in foreign languages, U.S. History and government, global history and geography, earth science, chemistry, physics, mathematics, and English/language arts.  Testing in English Test and math are federal requirements, so all of the others may find themselves on the chopping block.

One “solution” is to have school districts pay for the exams themselves – another unfunded mandate.  Not only would state aid be reduced, but state charges would be increased. 

If the cost of exams came out of the school’s operating budget, one has to wonder what the impact would be in terms of students being encouraged to take courses for regents credit.  Could a student take the course and simply take a local exam?  Would schools return to the old bifurcated system of regents and non-regents courses of study?  Would wealthy school districts be able to offer regents exams for all courses while poorer districts would be limited to two or three, exacerbating the already existing gulf between them?  Would schools be required to provide all exams or would each district have a choice?  Could districts pass the charge on to students?  What if a students’ family doesn’t have the means to pay for them?  Would not taking regents exams in courses other than English and math matter in terms of college or life in general?

Some note that offering regents exams in only English and math would free up almost two full weeks at the end of the school year for instruction.  The governor’s rhetoric centers on poor results for the money spent on schools, noting that New York is first in expenditures and 34th in terms of the number of people over 29 with a high school diploma. 

As budget season continues in all its splendor, New York won’t be the only state to consider whether expediency will finally curtail the push to test everything.  We’ve been doing that for several years now, and we have to ask, are kids smarter, more accomplished, and better prepared for post-high school life than they were before?

Perhaps the great testing debate will come down to the bottom line:  We can’t afford it.




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