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Originally published Monday, May 21, 2012 at 4:03 PM

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Misguided cost concerns about standardized student testing

Opponents of standardized testing should steer clear of price-tag comparisons. The need for higher-quality tests is a stronger argument.

Seattle Times Editorial

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CRITICS of standardized testing should stop citing cost as a reason to eliminate it. Less than 1 percent of Washington state's $6.8 billion annual K-12 education budget is spent on tests.

A group of Snohomish County parents recently opted their kids out of the Measurements of Student Progress (MSP) test for third- to eighth-graders. They had every right to do so. But the parents said they did it to protest education budget cuts and "wasteful spending" on tests.

That doesn't make sense. To its credit, the state Legislature did not cut education spending this year. The state spends $41 million annually on testing. By comparison, it will spend $39.2 million this year on bonuses for teachers who become nationally board certified.

Opponents of standardized testing should steer clear of price-tag comparisons. The need for higher-quality tests is a stronger argument.

Indeed, Washington lawmakers are listening. In the 2014-15 academic year, the current test will be replaced with one developed by a group of 30 states. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is a more comprehensive test. But don't look for savings. Its $27 per-student cost is similar to the current test's $30 per-student cost.

Misguided opposition to testing doesn't help refine an education system in need of accountability. There are nuanced concerns about testing that offer a better vantage point for debate and change. For example, the current springtime testing schedule with results available the following fall deserves greater scrutiny to see if the lag time can be shortened.

The tests are summative. They are supposed to provide a rearview snapshot of an academic year. Those kinds of tests are most accurate at the end of a school term when students have had a full year of learning. Teachers can look at the test results of their incoming class and see who is working at grade level and who needs extra support.

Diagnostic tests are important and should be considered.

Parents who cite the challenges of testing as a reason to opt out miss a chance to prepare their children for the tests that come with high-school graduation, college and career preparation.

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