Whether it's used as a tool to measure student progress or evaluate teachers, standardized testing continues to fall out of favor with the majority of the American public. According to the 2015 PDK/Gallup Survey of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 64 percent of Americans (and 67 percent of public school parents) say there is "too much emphasis on testing." Only 14 percent rated standardized testing as a "very important " factor in measuring school effectiveness, and 55 percent (66 percent of parents) oppose test scores being used to evaluate teacher performance.
The results reflect the growing momentum in communities across the nation as parents and educators have joined forces to demand less testing and more time to learn. And lawmakers at every level of government are finally getting the message.
"The high stakes obsession of test and punish has only served to widen the gap between the schools in the wealthiest districts and those in the poorest,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “We must reduce the emphasis on standardized tests that have corrupted the quality of the education children receive. The pressure placed on students and educators is enormous.”
“When you send your child to school, your expectation is that the school is going to teach the whole child," Chiquikta Fountain, a public school parent in Cleveland, MS. told PDK International. "But there’s so much funding attached to testing. if we don’t do well on testing, then we’re going to lose funding, which means we’re going to lose teachers. So teachers are being pressured to teach the children to pass the test. Everything has just spiraled out of control.”
One of the biggest education stories of 2015 has been the burgeoning "Opt-Out" movement of parents who want the right to pull their children out of state mandated standardized testing. It was recently reported, for example, that 200,000 grade 3-8 students in New York state refused to take statewide tests in Reading and Math for the 2014-15 school year. According to the PDK/Gallup survey, however, the public is split on this issue. Forty-one percent said parents should be allowed to excuse their child from standardized testing, while 44 percent said they should not be allowed. (Fifty-nine percent of Americans said they would not excuse their own child.)
“NEA fully supports parents and supports our affiliates who take a stand against tests that serve no educational purpose,” says García. “But making it easier for parents to opt out is not the end game. The end game is designing a system where parents and educators don’t even consider opting out of assessments because they trust that assessments make sense, guide instruction, and help children advance in learning.”
The public named lack of financial support as the biggest problem facing local public schools and rated school funding as “somewhat” or “very” important to their success. Lack of parental involvement and overcrowding were second and third, respectively.
What factors are very important in choosing a local public school? Americans identified teacher quality, curriculum, and maintaining student discipline as the most important factors, and proximity to the workplace, success of athletic programs, and student achievement on standardized tests as the least important factors.
Generally, people are very happy with their local schools but take a dim view of schools nationally. Fifty-one percent gave the schools in their community an 'A' or 'B'; only 4 percent have them a failing grade. Seventy-two percent of parents rated the school their oldest child attends an 'A' or 'B.' Only 20 percent, however, believe that schools nationwide deserve those high marks.
The PDK/Gallup survey also covered the public's attitudes toward school choice. A majority of Americans (64 percent) continue to support charter schools - similar to 63 percent in 2014 - but not voucher programs. 57 percent oppose using public taxpayer dollars for private school tuition. Regarding charter schools, it's perhaps worth noting that the survey question asked about support or opposition to the "idea" of charter schools. To parent Lisa Litvin of New York, the original purpose behind charters was a good idea.
“Charter schools have become something that wasn’t really intended. They were supposed to be incubators for new ideas in teaching, with successful ideas being brought back to the traditional schools," Litvin told PDK International. "But, instead, in our state, they’re becoming a permanent alternative to public schools.”
PDK International is a global network of education professionals and has conducted a poll on attitudes toward public education with the Gallup organization every year since 1969. The 2015 PDK/Gallup survey results are based on a web survey of 3,499 adults plus telephone interviews with an additional 1,001 adults.
“The results make clear what the public wants; the question is whether policymakers and leaders will respond accordingly,” said Joshua Starr, CEO of PDK International.
Read the full PDK/Gallup survey
Photo: Associated Press