Teachers and school administrators often complain about standardized test used to evaluate learning and school quality. They argue that such examinations are disruptive and often fail to capture what really goes on in the classroom.

But there’s often another, more fundamental, problem: It might be more cost effective just not to administer them. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times:

A plan to suspend California’s standardized testing for certain grades while new computerized exams are developed could save $15 million, the state’s top education official said.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recommended to the state Board of Education last week that the savings be used instead to develop higher-quality tests linked to new uniform but voluntary academic standards. They have been adopted by 45 states, including California, which plans to roll them out in the 2014-15 school year.

Torlakson reasons that since the state is working so hard to try to implement good tests, why should it bother to administer the older, crappier ones?

Some in California estimate that it would cost up to $1 billion for the new tests, including “textbooks, teacher training and technology” needed to institute them.

Torlakson would stop administering all tests that are not required by the federal government. Standardized testing that is required by the federal government, however, would still be performed using those low quality tests that apparently aren’t worth the cost of administration.

The Torlakson plan actually makes some intellectual sense, though such policy implications are troublesome for education reformers and even school administrators.

Education in this country, particularly in the last 50 years, consists of a long history of standardized tests. And then when testing improves policymakers throw out all the old ones and administer new ones. Sure Torlakson is right that “these new assessments will provide our schools with a way to measure how ready students are for the challenges of a changing world,” but so did the old ones. So indeed, will the next ones, once we figure out that the ones you’re administering now don’t do a sophisticated enough job measuring students. States will always be working to develop higher-quality tests. Why is this new effort so important it’s worth suspending existing tests? Just because the new tests are so expensive?

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer