Standardized Testing’s Foreign Aid Problem

By 10/13/2011

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Spend any time listening to talk radio and you’ll hear countless stories about “billions wasted” on foreign aid. Politicians seizing on painless ways to cut the deficit reinforce this perception of massive spending, and Americans believe them: In surveys, they estimate that as much as one out of four dollars spent by the federal government goes to foreign governments.

In fact, the U.S. spends just 1 percent of its budget on foreign aid. And eliminating it altogether wouldn’t even make a dent in the federal deficit.

Americans think the country spends much more on foreign aid than it does

Credit: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post

Testing is the foreign aid of education. And the same myths and realities apply. Educators think we spend inordinate amounts of money on standardized tests, when the truth is, we spend very little. As I explain in Education Week, no state comes even close to spending 1 percent of total per-pupil expenditures on testing.

For example, California, the country’s largest and most financially distressed state, spends less than $14 out of its $8,955 per-pupil total educational outlay on statewide standardized testing.

California spends only $14 dollars per pupil on testing

Credit: The Quick and the Ed

There are many problems with our current testing systems. And, all too often, other critical aspects of reform, such as the support needed to improve teaching and learning, are overlooked. But the constant drumbeat against test expenditures only serves to stifle investment in the very sorts of high-quality assessments that most educators deeply desire.

My commentary in Education Week explains why this issue is critical to determining whether the two consortia of states working to develop new assessments can fulfill their promise to move beyond “bubble” testing.

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