Repealing and Replacing High Standards and Assessments Leads to Significant Costs and Disruption

After years of development, planning and implementation, most states have established a rigorous and comparable baseline for student achievement. Most have matched those higher expectations with high-quality assessments, giving parents and teachers more accurate information about how prepared their students are to move on to next-level content, and ultimately to enter college or a career. Those are big accomplishments – and they are already beginning to return positive results.

Nevertheless, some entrenched opponents continue to insist on returning to old models of education – even though those systems were failing students. These calls to “repeal and replace” high, comparable standards and assessments not only discount (or completely omit) the success that states are having, they ignore the uncertainty and sizeable costs such a course of action entails.

Uncertainty for Students and Teachers

Only three states (Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina) have taken the ill-advised repeal-and-replace path. The outcome from each offers a cautionary lesson for policymakers elsewhere: Replacing rigorous, comparable education standards invariably results in other modest adjustments and “rebranding,” or, inferior learning goals. In South Carolina, for example, the resulting standards were 92 percent aligned to those they replaced in math and 89 percent in English language arts.

In fact, Oklahoma is the only state to replace high, comparable standards with demonstrably different academic expectations. Against educators’ warnings that the move would create “chaos” for schools, lawmakers ultimately decided to replace the state’s education standards, subjecting students to four sets of learning goals in six years.

“This decision is not good for Oklahoma’s schools, and it’s not good for Oklahoma’s kids,” the executive director of the State School Boards Association cautioned in 2014.

Sadly, that prediction proved true. An independent evaluation concluded Oklahoma’s new standards fall short on “nearly all” criteria of high-quality standards. “Worst of all, these standards will disadvantage Oklahoma students compared to their peers in other states; students in Oklahoma will be less prepared to successfully enter college and careers,” the analysis notes.

Significant Costs

High Achievement New York found that repeal-and-replace efforts in Indiana and Oklahoma cost those states as much as $300 million combined – and could cost as much as $480 million in New York. “Chaos ensued in both Indiana and Oklahoma after repealing the standards, creating a nightmarish situation for confused teachers and lowering the bar for students,” it adds.

And while the monetary costs may be high, that doesn’t take into account the time it takes for states to develop new standards and assessments, the time teachers must invest into familiarizing themselves with the new assessment, and the time students will need to become comfortable.

States that have “gone it alone” by developing independent assessments have already incurred serious costs and technical problems, and may very well end up with weaker tests. A Chalkbeat article reports: “The process of leaving consortia that was meant to pacify local protests against Common Core-aligned tests has actually led to chaos and confusion in the classroom, not to mention extra costs to those same states to develop replacement exams.”

Jim Cowen adds: “Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges that accompany the development and implementation of new assessments, states that have struck out on their own have also jeopardized their ability to compare their progress to other states—and may very well come out with an inferior assessment in the process.”

While most states are moving forward towards better preparing students for college and careers, those that seek to appease critics by striking out on their own, either with standards or state assessments, risk putting students at a disadvantage. Fortunately, as they begin to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, most states and school districts remain firmly committed to keeping the bar high for students.