By Sat, August 17, 2013
WASHINGTON (AP) — 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
"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.
As students prepare to return to classrooms, the AP-NORC Center surveyed parents of students at all grade levels and found:
— Sixty-one percent of parents think their children take an
appropriate number of standardized tests and 26 percent think their
children take too many tests.
—Teachers' fates shouldn't rest solely on test results, according to a
majority of parents. Fifty-six percent said classroom observations
should be part of teachers' evaluations, and 74 percent of all parents
said they wanted districts to help struggling teachers.
— Despite many Republicans' unrelenting criticism of the Common Core
State Standards, in various stages of implementation in 45 states and
the District of Columbia, 52 percent parents have heard little or
nothing about the academic benchmarks and a third are unsure if they
live in a state using them. Still, when given a brief description of
what the standards do, about half of parents say educational quality
will improve once the standards are implemented, 11 percent think it
will get worse, and 27 percent say they'll have no effect.
— Seventy-five percent of parents say standardized tests are a solid
measure of their children's abilities, and 69 percent say such exams are
a good measure of the schools' quality.
"We know when the tests are coming up. They spend a lot of time getting ready for them," said Rodney Land of Lansing, Mich.
His daughter, Selena, will be in eighth grade at a charter school
this fall. The weights-and-measures inspector supports the testing
because "it shows what they know, and what they should know."
"We need some way to keep track of whether the teachers are spending enough time educating," Land said.
Education union leaders have stood opposed to linking teacher
evaluations with these tests, arguing it is unfair to punish teachers
for students' shortcomings. They also say teachers have not had
sufficient time to rewrite their lessons to reflect new academic
benchmarks, such as those found in the Common Core.
When states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which aim
to provide consistent requirements across all states for math and
English, test results often falter and the standards can make schools
and teachers appear to be faring worse than they did the previous year.
Then, what to do with those test results?
A full 93 percent of parents say standardized tests should be used to
identify areas where students need extra help. Smaller majorities think
such tests should be used to measure school quality, evaluate teachers
or determine whether or not students are promoted or can graduate.
At the same time, 72 percent of all parents said they want to make it
easier for school districts to fire teachers who aren't getting the job
done. That position had the strongest showing among white parents, 80
percent of whom favored the idea. About 6 in 10 Hispanic or black
That's not to say, though, that parents want to dismiss teachers
immediately or leave them without a safety net, especially not new
educators. Eighty-seven percent of all parents said they wanted
districts to spend money to help new teachers.
For Julie Dorwart, a behavior therapist from Wilmington, N.C., making
sure students do well with the material that's taught is important. Her
son Matt, who is starting his freshman year of high school this fall,
"really stressed out" about standardized tests but nonetheless performed
well. She would prefer school officials evaluate students and teachers
based on grades, not just universal tests.
"The schools make such a big deal about them and put so much emphasis on the (tests) that the kids freak out," she said.
Among parents who are also teachers or share a household with a
teacher, the opinions shifted. Only about 3 in 10 in that group think
changes in students' test scores should count in teacher evaluations.
And 55 percent of households with teachers said standardized test scores
in general should not be used to evaluate teachers.
"I think the biggest crime is that teaching has turned to focus on
the tests, rather than the tests being a tool that help you understand.
All the teaching and learning is on the subject being tested," said Abby
Cohen, a 50-year-old teacher from Newton, Mass., a Boston suburb.
Her daughter, Isabel Snyder, is starting her senior year, and Cohen
worries Isabel didn't get as much as she could have from the teachers
because of the focus on testing.
"You have to ask how much you're straightjacketing the teachers," Cohen said.
The survey was sponsored by the Joyce Foundation, which works to
promote policies that improve the quality of teachers, including the
development of new teacher evaluation systems, enhance early reading
reforms and encourage innovation in public schools.
The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey was conducted
June 21 through July 22, 2013. The nationally representative poll,
conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, involved landline and
cellphone interviews in English or Spanish with 1,025 parents of
children who completed grades K through 12 in the last school year.
Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or
minus 4.1 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.
AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research: http://www.apnorc.org
Associated Press news survey specialist Dennis Junius and Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson contributed to this report.
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