Student Testing:

Current Extent and Expenditures, With Cost Estimates for a National Examination

PEMD-93-8: Published: Jan 13, 1993. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 1993.

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Robert L. York
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed standardized school testing, focusing on: (1) its current nature, extent, and cost; and (2) how a new national test would affect those factors.

GAO found that: (1) from 1990 through 1991, systemwide testing took 7 hours per year and cost an average of $15 per student; (2) the typical test was the commercially-developed four- or five-subject multiple-choice exam; (3) the less common performance-based tests cost $20 per student, but testing officials considered them to be an improvement; (4) the three options for future national testing included a single national multiple-choice test, a national performance-based test, and several states using different performance-based tests; (5) the first test option is the least expensive, but would be most duplicative and not valued by many state and local test officials; (6) performance-based tests would cost more, but would be better linked to local teaching methods; and (7) testing officials indicated a preference for tests of high technical quality that could be used for diagnosing problems at the state or local level, but expressed opposition to the general idea of a national test.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress no longer envisions a national examination. Instead, P.L. 103-227 (Goals 2000: Educate America Act) and the pending Chapter 1 compensatory education program reauthorization bills encourage each state to develop assessments aligned to its own standards for content and student performance. The recommendation is thus moot.

    Matter: If Congress wishes to build support for a national examination system among teachers and state and local administrators, it should consider specific ways to encourage their involvement in the process of curriculum development, standard-setting, and test development, administration, and scoring. This would improve the likelihood of success of a national system as local teachers and administrators should be an integral part of any test administration.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress is no longer considering establishing a national examination system. The Goals 2000: Educate America Act (P.L. 103-227), which encourages the states to develop assessments, provides for review and certification of such assessments by a national panel at a state's request.

    Matter: If Congress wishes to encourage the development of a well-accepted and widely used national examination system, it should consider means for ensuring the technical quality of the tests.


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