Dinniman questions costs of standardized testing

State Sen. Andy Dinniman

HARRISBURG — State Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19), Minority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, expressed serious concerns Tuesday about the significant amount of state funding being spent on mandatory standardized testing in Pennsylvania schools.

“We are spending hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars on testing while some school districts don’t even have the resources to properly educate students on the subjects upon which they are being tested,” Dinniman said.

He also noted that school district after school district is increasing property taxes, at least in part, due to unfunded state mandates, including standardized testing. 

Dinniman’s comments came during today’s Senate Appropriations Committee Budget Hearing on the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE). For the 2017-18 fiscal year, PDE is requesting more than $58 million for testing and related costs, including the storage and assessment of testing data. 

In fact, during the 2015-16 fiscal year and the first half of the 2016-17 fiscal year, PDE already spent more than $115 million on testing and related contracts, according to information provided Senate Democratic Appropriations staff. 

“The total is well over the $100 million we scraped together to increase the Basic Education Subsidy to school districts in the current budget cycle,” Dinniman noted.

Additionally, Dinniman pointed out that one testing company, Data Recognition Corporation (DRC) of Minnesota, has received more than $742 million in state contracts since 2008. Two of the three DRC contracts were given sole source no-bid extensions. In the period noted above (the 2015-16 fiscal year and the first half of the 2016-17 fiscal year), DRC received more than $88 million. A variety of other companies involved in the assessment and measuring of test scores also received millions of dollars in state expenditures during that same 18-month period. In fact, three companies alone received a total of $19.6 million.

“Of course, appropriate testing is needed for diagnostic purposes and to assist in student learning,” Dinniman emphasized. “However, the current PDE requirement of expensive and excessive high-stakes testing wastes both vast sums of money and valuable classroom learning time.

“In fact, the current PDE tests can’t even be used for diagnostic and educational purposes, since the results are not returned until the next academic year when students are in new classrooms with new teachers!” he added. 

PDE has created an extensive and excessive structure of testing, data collection, and measurement with such initials as PSSA, Keystones, EVASS, PVASS, PIMS, SAS, and the list goes on.

“For the taxpayer, the bottom line of this bureaucratic structure is the unfunded cost to school districts – more than $1 billion over the last eight years. The legislature must act on its fiduciary responsibility to thoroughly review and rein in this spending,” Dinniman said.

Immediately following today’s budget hearing, Dinniman brought together a group of Deans of Education from various universities and testing experts to discuss with him and Senator John Eichelberger, Majority Chair of the Senate Education Committee, ways to better achieve real accountability in our schools, without excessive testing and spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

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