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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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  • Frank Natoli

    teachers are not hostile to all forms of assessment—while they oppose standardized tests, they are more favorably disposed to various classroom assessments
    You mean non-standardized tests? You mean tests devised by the teacher? So the teacher certifies her own competence? Oh, sure, that’s a great idea. When should that concept be extended to medical schools? Have the doctor candidate certify his own competence?
    At my Jesuit high school in uptown Manhattan in the 1960s, we didn’t take NYS Regents exams, standardized exams of the time, because our exams were certified tougher than the Regents exams. So “standardized” can be flexible, as long as its tougher, not a circular testing joke, which is all the NEA thinks they should be.

    • CapitalHawk

      I had roughly the same thought when I read that. Of course teachers would be ok with a fellow union member “assessing” them and then, of course, certifying that they were a top notch teacher!

  • Andrew Allison

    Is there any question that teachers and administrators fight assessment standards as a means of avoiding accountability for learning outcomes? That most parents and students would like to know what that outcomes are? The interesting question is why the poor and working-class parents whose children are, indisputably, getting a raw deal from the public education system keep re-electing those responsible.

    • Tom

      Because those people promise them other benefits.

  • FriendlyGoat

    I sometimes wonder whether students pay attention to the political debates in America over NCLB, Common Core, standardized testing, and the other arguments and controversies. Somebody ought to start a high-school movement called “Whaddaya Mean?” Why can’t you adults get your damn heads on? Why do you not know what to teach us? Why do you not know how to do it? Why are half of you ragging on our teachers ALL THE TIME when your own attitudes are worse behavior than ours as kids?

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