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Common Core Test Questions Cost $1,000 to $5,000 Apiece

Marketplace last night broadcast an interesting piece on the cost of building the Common Core standardized tests, the first round of which our kids will soon be taking:

That kind of test is more expensive, says Scott Marion, associate director of the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment. Each question has to be written, then reviewed for bias and age-appropriateness, and field tested. Then it may be revised or even thrown out. When you add up nine grade levels, all with different tests in math and English, we’re talking thousands and thousands of questions. Marion estimates a single multiple- choice question costs roughly $1,000 to develop.

“When you get into more open-ended questions, you get into three, four, five thousand dollars per question,” he says [Amy Scott, "With Common Core Testing, You Get What You Pay For," Marketplace, 2015.02.09].

When I taught French at Spearfish High School, I wrote my own final exams. The French 1 exam had 120 vocab questions, around ten verb conjugations, ten translation questions, and fifteen oral interview questions. None were multiple choice questions, but none were complicated essay questions. Using Common Core math, let's put my question-development cost at $3,000. One French final exam with 145 questions would cost $465,000 to develop. Consider that I prepared similar exams for French 2 and French 3 and created separate semester and final exams. That's $2.79 million in test-creation value, and that's without adding the cost of regular vocab quizzes, oral interviews, and other assessments throughout the year. And shall we discuss the time I spent grading those tests?

South Dakota, you got $2.79 million in value for a mere $35,500 a year. Yet I keep coming back for more. You're a lucky state, South Dakota.

p.s.: Just as South Dakota is about to get the first payoff on its investment in those fancy-pants Common Core tests, Rep. Blaine Campbell (R-35/Rapid City) and some of our archest conservatives propose House Bill 1223 to end South Dakota's involvement with Common Core and outlaw our use of any similar multistate standards.


  1. Tim 2015.02.10

    Cory, that is a great contribution on your part, and I'm sure most of your students can speak french. I can hear Daugaard now on your post, but how many of them can weld? If they can't weld then they are no part of what it takes to contribute to somebody elses profit.

  2. mike from iowa 2015.02.10

    Any wonder then why wingnuts think teachers are overpaid?
    $2.79 million. I guess you could afford to buy me a glass of milk at the next Rickstock I attend,huh?(it will be my first one)

  3. Bill Fleming 2015.02.10

    LOL, nice bit of sophistry, Cory. I'll leave it to you to explain why your involvement in the creation of those questions isn't the same as their total development cost. It's a lot like when we have to explain why development of a logo/brand promise for a client costs so much. ;-)

    P.s. I heard that same broadcast driving home from work. My favorite part was, 'real life is not a set of pre-determined multiple choice, wrong or right answers. In real life you have to build your own answers from scratched using the knowledge you have accumulated as ingredients.' That's paraphrased, of course, but wasn't that the gist?

  4. Bill Fleming 2015.02.10

    From scratch not scratched. Sorry.

  5. WayneF 2015.02.10

    I majorly p***ed off my superindent when the local newspaper (Huron Plainsman) published my letter January 21, 2014, about who REALLY benefits from Common Core State Standards. Here's what I wrote:

    Fifty-three years ago, in his Farewell Address to the U.S Congress and the American people, President Eisenhower warned about the imminent threat of the "Military-Industrial Complex." He was referring to the economic and political confluence that threatened "liberties and democratic processes." Military conflict is very profitable for some.

    Now we face an equally pernicious threat: the Education-Publishing Complex....

    One publishing conglomerate wrote the standards and produces most of the textbooks aligned to these standards. This same publisher has also cornered the market on standardized tests....

    Pearson PLC (based in London) is less interested in students' learning and readiness for post-secondary education than it is in making money.

    Here's a link:

  6. tara volesky 2015.02.10

    Where are the teacher unions, school boards and administrators? They should be out on the front lines fighting common core instead of colluding with politicians and Pearson Education corporation. Teachers and parents need to rise up to get this thing stopped.

  7. Donald Pay 2015.02.10

    Common Core is NOT the standardized tests. Common Core are Standards. Those are fine. The test needs to be re-thought, though.

  8. o 2015.02.10

    Tara, a quick google search shows where the teachers' union is on the issue of over-testing in schools: (spoiler - we are against it)

    Teachers are "colluding" in efforts that create high standards for student learning. Any "collusion" beyond that is hyperbole on your part. Teachers put the needs of their students above the profits of testing corporations; there is no profit for the teachers in any of this "educational industrial complex." In fact, I think teachers may be the only element of education who has figured out how NOT to financially profit from education.

    Donald is correct, Common Core is a set of standards for schools to set benchmarks for student learning. Furthermore, curriculum decisions are still school decisions. The need for a national test is more a hold over from NCLB mandates/thinking than some new creation of Common Core.

  9. tara volesky 2015.02.10

    o, sorry, I did not say teachers are colluding with politicians, etc. Where does the SDEA stand on Common Core?

  10. Richard Schriever 2015.02.10

    Corey. I'd venture that the costs for CCore test development is not far off. The whole process is very similar to the professional development process for performance evaluation or training design in business, or organizational settings. I have been engaged in both of those activities professionally, and it is just not as simple (comparatively) to one person writing one test in a (relative) vacuum. One example: To design a performance evaluation system for a group of 300 Social Work professionals, I spent 3, 40-hour-a-week months in just the SME (subject matter expert) interview process. My rates at that time were in the $100/hour range for interviewers as I recall. That doesn't include the time lost by the experts away from their regular duties to take part in the interviews, their travel costs, etc.

    But the value of the tests you developed would be significantly less. Why? Yours didn't involve the peer review, bias review, testing the test, revisions and so on, that would have been performed over the course of a couple years and involved dozens more "workers". What's cited in the costs for CCoire development is a time/value (input)measurement for the cost of those test questions, not an an outcome value.

  11. Roger Cornelius 2015.02.10

    Tara knows the answers to her own questions.

  12. Donald Pay 2015.02.10

    The Smarter Balance test is what we are talking about, not Common Core.

    Smarter Balance has lots, I mean lots, of problems. Cost is one, which is escalating. In Wisconsin the test is now estimated at $34 per student, up from $26 per student. I'd have to be convinced that the test is worth it, even at $26 per student.

    And the problem is this: the test is not going to be adaptive this year, as promised. Getting the test up and running has been one big cluster...well, you know. So the feature of Smarter Balance that everyone thinks would be the one vast improvement in standardized testing won't be happening, at least this year.

    Look, Common Core doesn't need Smarter Balance, and if states decide to delay Smarter Balance until the adaptive features work as promised, that's a reasonable position. I like the adaptive features of the test, because it really does probe the level of knowledge a student has. On the other hand, IT DOESN'T WORK.

    Anyway, here's a recent article from Wisconsin:

  13. Donald Pay 2015.02.10

    Actually, it's "Smarter Balanced."

  14. grudznick 2015.02.10

    Mr. Pay, there is no nuclear waste dump by Pringle. You, my good sir, are wearing one of Mr. Sibby's stepsister's tin foil wigs. But that doesn't mean that the ghost of Janklow isn't haunting your self late at night.

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