The AP-NORC poll got a lot of press the other day because it seemed to show vast public support for testing:
WASHINGTON — Often criticized as too prescriptive and all-consuming, standardized tests have support among parents, who view them as a useful way to measure both students’ and schools’ performances, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.
Most parents also say their own children are given about the right number of standardized tests, according to the AP-NORC poll.
They’d like to see student performance on statewide exams used in evaluating teachers, and almost three-quarters said they favored changes that would make it easier for schools to fire poorly performing teachers.
“The tests are good because they show us where students are at, if they need help with anything,” said Vicky Nevarez, whose son Jesse just graduated from high school in Murrieta, Calif. “His teachers were great and if there were problems, the tests let me know.”
The polling results are good news for states looking to implement increased accountability standards and for those who want to hold teachers responsible for students’ slipping standing against other countries’ scores. Teachers’ unions have objected to linking educators’ evaluations to student performance.
Reformers hailed this poll, pointing to it as proof positive that parents and the public love all things reformy and states can go full speed ahead on standardized testing and teacher evaluations tied to those tests.
But a PDK/Gallup taken in May and released yesterday shows different results:
The poll also found eroding support for standardized testing, with fewer than 25 percent of respondents saying they believe increased testing has helped to improve public schools. Connected to that is a sharp, one-year decline among Americans who favor using student scores on standardized tests as a measure of teachers’ job performance. In the 2012 poll, 52 percent of poll respondents said they favored using test scores to evaluate teachers. This year, support dropped to 41 percent.
The PDK/Gallup poll, which is its 45th annual survey on public attitudes toward public schools, was conducted by telephone in May. The national survey of 1,001 respondents 18 and older has a margin of error of 3.8 percent.
The findings on standardized testing—that fewer than one in four of those responding believe that more student testing has led to better public schools—stand in sharp contrast to the results in another national poll published this week by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago.
In its question on testing, the PDK/Gallup poll told respondents that there had been a significant increase in testing before asking them to answer whether they thought more testing had helped, hurt, or made no difference in the performance of public schools.
The AP survey—which polled parents and guardians with children in grades K-12—posed a different question. In asking parents how important it is for schools to regularly assess students, 74 percent said it was either extremely or very important to use tests to gauge both how their children are doing and how schools are measuring up. In the same poll, 61 percent of parents said their own children are given about the right number of standardized tests, while 26 percent said their children are overtested.
Sixty percent also said that students’ scores on state tests should be included in teacher evaluations.
The PDK/Gallup survey, however, found that 58 percent of respondents oppose requiring teacher evaluations to include student scores on standardized tests. That’s a reversal of public opinion from just last year, when 47 percent of PDK/Gallup respondents opposed using test scores in evaluations.
So, depending upon how you ask questions around standardized testing issues, you either get overwhelming public support for standardized testing or overwhelming belief that standardized testing has not improved education.
When relying on general knowledge of standardized testing issues, most parents say their children are given just the right amount of tests.
But when parents are given context - NCLB increased the amount of standardized testing, Race to the Top will increase that amount even more - most parents say standardized testing is not improving education for children.
We are at the cusp of the Common Core standards implementation movement in 45 states around the country.
Along with those new standards will come new Common Core tests - just like the ones that New York State gave last April that saw scores plummet across the state.
In addition, as part of Race to the Top and NCLB waiver mandates, the Obama administration is requiring states to tie teacher evaluations to "student performance" - a euphemism for standardized testing.
Here in NYC, students will be subject to taking both city and state tests in every subject, K-12, in order to pull off the new APPR teacher evaluation system that requires 40% of a teacher's evaluation come from test scores (20% from state tests and 20% from "local measures.")
On top of all of that testing, some students are forced to take "field tests" during the year to help Pearson, the state's testing vendor, and the NYSED develop testing materials for future state "assessments."
We have already seen more than 1,500 children, parents and teachers join together in Port Jefferson to protest the state's testing regime.
As more and more tests are added to the year not to help assess where students are academically but rather to evaluate their teachers and schools based on growth measures and/or value-added measurements, you can bet that parents won't need to be given any context around these testing issues - they will see for themselves just how damaging the testing regime is to children, teachers and schools.
Indeed, the PDK/Gallup poll indicates many parents are already growing skeptical of teacher evaluations tied to test scores.
In last year's poll, 52% of respondents approved of using standardized test scores in teacher evaluations while 47% opposed.
In this year's poll, 41% of respondents supported using test scores in teacher evaluations, 58% opposed.
That's an 11% shift in one year - a year when more tests and assessments were rolled out for children to take so that their teachers and schools could be evaluated using the scores.
The test rollouts are only going to increase in the coming years, as more and more states begin giving standardized tests based on the Common Core standards and more and more states put their teacher evaluation systems tied to test scores on line, as required by the Obama administration for RttT funds or NCLB waivers.
The state commissioner in Kentucky - a state that has already rolled out the new Common Core tests and seen scores drop precipitously - acknowledged that the PDK/Gallup poll findings gave him pause over the evaluation issue:
Terry Holliday, the commissioner of education in Kentucky, said that the one-year change in the public’s view is an important data point to weigh.
“For Kentucky, where we have been slow and deliberate about how we are doing our evaluations, this tells me that we need to be even more cautious,” he said.
The president of the State Board of Education in California, Michael Kurst, told the San Jose Mercuty News that "he was surprised by the apparent change in public opinion related to using test scores in teacher evaluations."
The trajectory of public support for standardized testing and teacher evaluations tied to test scores is turning against reformers and the Obama administration.
There is a lot of propaganda out there right now, with the corporate education reform movement having to battle opponents on both the left and the right over the new Common Core standards.
The corporate education reformers are bringing out the big guns in their propaganda war - from Bill and Paul Krugman of the NY Times to Jeb Bush and Chris Christie - to convince the public that Common Core and the tests associated with the new standards are good things for children and schools.
But propaganda doesn't work so well when it comes in direct conflict with person's experience, and as the states roll out dozens of new tests tied to Common Core and scores plunge across the country as they already have in New York State and Kentucky and teachers come under the gun under the new teacher evaluation systems based upon these scores, it's going to become one of those "What are you going to believe - the propaganda in the media or your own lying eyes?" kind of thing.
Context and experience is everything in this fight - and the more context and experience parents and the public get with the Common Core and the associated tests, the more the opposition to both will grow.