Poll: Americans see schools as more than a test

The 47th annual national poll by Bloomington, Ind.-based PDK International was released earlier today, and it shows the shifting attitudes of the public toward the running of schools.

Here are the key findings:

  • Testing doesn’t measure up for Americans. Student engagement at school and whether students feel hopeful about their future are better factors to consider when evaluating schools.
  • Testing lacks public support. Blacks and Hispanics said standardized test results could be helpful in improving schools and are very important measures of school quality.
  • Common Core out of favor. Hispanics and Whites opposed having teachers use the Common Core in instruction. More Blacks favored using the Common Core than opposed its use. Some say it was too much too soon.
  • Americans endorse choice. Americans accept choice and charters as part of the education landscape, but they don’t want to use public money to pay for private school attendance.
  • Americans love their local schools. The schools closest to our homes get the highest grades; the ones nationally, the lowest.
  • Americans prefer state, not federal, control. President Obama’s approval is up slightly, but Americans trust their states more as decision makers in education.

Some groups responded differently to some of the big questions. For example, when it comes to opting out of state-mandated tests, only 33 percent of people who identified themselves as Democrats said parents should have that right, while 47 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of independents thought so.

In addition to differences across political ideologies, differences were also seen between racial and ethnic groups. Only 28 percent of African Americans said they should be allowed to opt their children out of tests, while 35 percent of Hispanics and 44 percent of Whites said so.

Results on the question of whether we place too much, too little, or about the right amount of emphasis on standardized tests, most subgroups were within the margin of error, reported as being between 3 and 5 percent, of the average given in the circle graph above. The notable exception is that only 57 percent of Blacks, still a majority but not as sizable as in other groups, thought standardized testing was emphasized too strongly.

Support for the Common Core standards dropped: a majority of those surveyed oppose the Common Core. African Americans and Hispanics, though, were more likely to support the standards.

Respondents felt standardized testing hurt other subjects, as the mother of a middle school student in Mississippi said. “When you send your child to school, your expectation is that the school is going to teach the whole child,” she was quoted as saying, having discovered that teachers never taught her son how to write his name in cursive.

“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. We cannot afford to lose teachers, and the teachers know that. So teachers are being pressured to teach the children to pass the test. Everything has just spiraled out of control.”

Testing’s toll on students was also a prominent part of the responses. “People are really exhausted from testing,” she continued. “Children don’t really have a chance to give their minds a break. They are always either taking tests or getting ready to take tests. It’s turning a lot of children away from school.”

Specifically, for standardized tests that measure students’ progress against the standards in the Common Core, many respondents apparently think they miss the mark. “To be effective, a test has to test what a student has been taught,” one New York parent was quoted as saying. “You have to be able to see the questions after the fact. Test results have to come back to the school so teachers, students, and parents can learn from them, and the test results can’t have high stakes attached to them.”

The flip side of that argument is, if the tests don’t have high stakes attached to them, students don’t try very hard. It’s a bigger question for another day, I suppose, but what I hope happens with this poll is that education leaders use it to hear the voices of people in their community, especially parents. I hope it helps them listen to what so many of those voices have been saying for a long time now. In particular, the federal government’s expanded role under the No Child Left Behind law of 2002 must be reduced. It can no longer be sustained, and it’s ruining education for kids everywhere.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.