Americans overwhelmingly think there is too much emphasis on standardized testing in public schools and that test scores are not the best way to judge schools, teachers or students, according to a national poll.
The results released on Sunday come from the 47th annual PDK/Gallup poll of attitudes toward public schools, the longest-running survey of Americans’ views on public education.
The survey showed that the public rejects school accountability built on standardized tests, which has been federal policy through No Child Left Behind, the signature education initiative of President George W. Bush.
Signed into law in 2002, No Child mandated annual tests in reading and math and required schools to raise scores every year or face penalties. Through its own policies and grant programs, the Obama administration has further emphasized testing by requiring states to evaluate teachers based on test scores.
“You see a solid public rejection of (testing) as a primary policy,” said Linda Darling Hammond, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, after reviewing the poll.
A majority of respondents – 64 percent – said too much emphasis has been placed on testing, and a majority also said the best way to measure the success of a school is not through tests but by whether students are engaged and feel hopeful about the future.
“Too many kids in too many schools are bored,” said Joshua Starr, a former superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland who is now chief executive of PDK International, a network of education professionals. “Parents maybe see that and they want their kids to be engaged in schools.”
Many Americans also said they think students should be judged by multiple measures, including student work, written teacher observations and grades. And they overwhelmingly think teacher quality is the best way to improve education, followed by high academic standards and effective principals.
Although the national debate over public education has become polarized during the past several years, with bitter divisions inside and between political parties, the PDK/Gallup poll showed a surprising level of agreement in the public at large.
The 2015 survey, based on telephone and Internet polling performed in May, includes for the first time a breakdown of responses to some questions by racial groups as well as political parties.
A majority of respondents – regardless of political affiliation – opposed the notion of evaluating teachers based in part on test scores, an idea heavily promoted by the Obama administration and fought by teachers unions.
When it comes to the role of the federal government in public schools, a majority of respondents said Washington should play no role in holding schools accountable, paying for schools or deciding the amount of testing. Seven out of 10 respondents said they wanted state and local districts to have those responsibilities.
Regarding academic standards, more than six out of 10 said the expectations for what students should learn is important to school improvement. But a majority – 54 percent – is opposed to the Common Core State Standards, the K-12 academic benchmarks adopted by 43 states and the District of Columbia that have been under fire by critics on the left and right.
Despite the view that there is too much standardized testing, a majority of respondents said parents should not excuse their children from tests. A majority also said they think test scores are “somewhat important” in judging the effectiveness of their local schools.
In a rebuttal to those who say states should use common tests so that the public can compare how students perform across state boundaries, fewer than one in five public school parents said it was important to know how children in their communities performed on standardized tests compared with students in other districts, states or countries.
But nearly one in three blacks said using standardized tests to compare their local schools with schools in other districts and other states is “very important.” Just 15 percent of whites gave the same response.
Overall, the public is happy with local schools, with 57 percent of public school parents giving their school an A or a B for performance. But just 19 percent had that opinion of public schools nationwide.
“Clearly, there is anxiety about what’s happening in teaching and learning,” said Andres Alonso, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a former chief executive of Baltimore City Public Schools.
Respondents said they support charter schools, and more than six out of 10 say parents should be able to choose any school for their children within their school district.
But respondents were opposed to vouchers, or using tax dollars to pay for private school tuition, a policy increasingly promoted by Republican politicians. Several of the 2016 presidential hopefuls – Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Bobby Jindal – support vouchers.
Overall, 57 percent of respondents were opposed to vouchers and 31 percent were in favor. Public school parents split in a similar way.
But by political party, Republicans were divided on vouchers, with 46 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed. Democrats were strongly opposed to vouchers, with 71 percent against and 16 percent in favor. Independents opposed vouchers by a margin of about 3 to 2.
On some issues, there were clear differences of opinion along racial lines. Blacks tended to be more supportive of the Common Core and standardized testing than whites, and a majority of blacks — 55 percent — gave President Barack Obama an A or a B for his support of public schools, compared with 17 percent of whites.