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Education Reform
Who Likes Testing?

Standardized testing in K-12 education has always been controversial, but the unpopularity of the last two major federal educational initiatives—No Child Left Behind and Common Core—has turned it a hot-button cultural issue, with both party bases staging an anti-testing revolt against the more testing-friendly party elites. As the debate over the proper role of assessment rages on in the general public, Gallup has released an in-depth study of the attitudes toward testing among the most interested and informed groups—public school students, parents, teachers and administrators—that yielded at least two surprising results.

First, contrary to the common perception, a large majority of students, and a narrow majority of parents, do not believe that there is too much testing. Anti-testing sentiment is much more pronounced among higher education professionals (whose pay and status can sometimes be tied to student scores):

This study identifies an important contrast in views of testing time: Three-quarters of students and more than half of their parents (52%) say students spend the right amount of time or too little time taking assessments. Meanwhile, more than seven in 10 teachers, principals and superintendents say that students spend too much time on assessments.

On the one hand, this result lends support to suspicions that teachers and administrators fight assessment standards as a means of avoiding accountability for learning outcomes. On the other hand, as the authors of the report emphasize, teachers are not hostile to all forms of assessment—while they oppose standardized tests, they are more favorably disposed to various classroom assessments—leaving open the possibility of a reformed testing regime that would be more amenable to teachers while preserving accountability. (Given the intransigence of teachers’ unions in the face of virtually any policy change that could threaten their seniority-based, tenure-for-life system, we are skeptical).

Second, parents in lower-income households are twice as supportive of standardized testing as their higher-income counterparts:

Lower-income parents are more likely than higher- income parents to agree or strongly agree that state tests improve learning. One-third of parents (33%) with a household income under $60,000 agree or strongly agree that state tests improve learning, compared with 16% of parents with an income of $60,000-$89,999; 17% of parents with an income of $90,000-$119,999; 21% of parents with an income of $120,000- $179,999; and 15% of parents with an income above $180,000.

This result likely reflects a sense among poor and working-class parents that their children are getting a raw deal from the public education system, and that standardized testing is an important tool for exposing and resolving inequities. (For upper-middle class parents whose children go to good schools, state testing might seem like at best a waste of time, and at worst an encroachment on their children’s precious individuality). So this is one area where America’s much-maligned “bipartisan elites,” who tend to push a more testing-friendly education reform agenda, really are responding to the policy preferences of ordinary families—even if, by pushing through clunky and needlessly bureaucratic federal testing bills, they are going about it the wrong way.
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