Publications & Resources

Economic Analysis of Testing: Competency, Certification, and “Authentic” Assessments

Aug 1994

James S. Catterall and Lynn Winters

Cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analyses, say researchers James Catterall and Lynn Winters in Economic Analysis of Testing: Competency, Certification, and “Authentic” Assessments, have similar policy purposes. “Both analyses,” note the authors, “aim at what choices might be made either to reach given goals with lower costs, or to attain more results for a given budget allocation.” But trying to use either economic analysis is difficult when applied to educational assessment because anticipated benefits are moot. The authors note, for example, that policy makers, test coordinators, principals, and counselors have used minimum competency tests to motivate students, encouraging them, albeit negatively, to develop and improve basic skills. Yet a study by James Catterall in 1990 showed that fewer than half of 736 students in 8 high schools (four states) were even aware that their high school required them to pass a minimum competency test prior to graduation. Clearly the intended motivational benefit or effect sought by policy makers did not reflect what was truly happening. Thus, tying the costs of assessments to benefits and effects that may not really occur is problematic. Regarding performance assessments, the authors suggest that linking policy and costs will be equally challenging. Because performance assessments should be good instructional activities themselves, it is difficult to differentiate the costs into specific categories such as assessment, curriculum, or in cases of scoring, as professional development for teachers. “That they [performance assessments] have returns over and above current tests is presently assumed,” conclude Catterall and Winters. “Establishing the linkages between the costs and benefits may be an important factor in the course of testing reform in the 1990s.”

Catterall, J. S., & Winters, L. (1994). Economic analysis of testing: Competency, certification, and authentic assessments (CSE Report 383). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).