PDK/Gallup: Americans See Too Much Standardized Testing


The overwhelming majority of Americans, according to a national poll, believe that too much emphasis has been put on standardized testing in US public schools and that schools, teachers, and students are not best-judged through the use of test scores.

These results were announced with the 47th Phi Delta Kappa (PDK)/Gallup poll of attitudes towards public schools, the longest-running survey of Americans' opinions on public education, reports The Washington Post's Lyndsey Layton. PDK International is a worldwide association of education professionals. The poll is published by PDK's Kappan magazine.

According to the survey, the American public does not want school accountability to be based on standardized tests, which has been the case since the initiation of No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush's signature education reform, in 2002. The mandate required annual tests in reading and math which resulted in schools facing penalties if performance did not improve each year.

The Obama administration has taken the policy a step further by requiring states to evaluate classroom teachers based on test score results.

"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.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said there was too much importance placed on testing and a majority said the best way to measure the success of a school is by observing whether students are engaged and feel hopeful about the future.

"Too many kids in too many schools are bored," said Joshua P. Starr, a former superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland who is now chief executive of PDK International. "Parents maybe see that and they want their kids to be engaged in schools."

The poll found that although Americans are concerned about public education in general, they believe that their local schools are doing a good job, writes Maureen Downey of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. US adults are skeptical concerning Common Core, but also believe one of the five most troubling problems facing schools in their communities is academic standards. They also agree that there is too much testing, but are split on whether parents should have the right to have their children opt out of the standardized testing.

Fifty-four percent of the public is opposed to local teachers using the Common Core standards to guide what they teach. But blacks and Hispanics are slightly more likely than whites to say that test results are important to guide improvement of schools and to compare the quality of schools. More blacks than whites thought it was important for parents to have their children take the standardized tests.

"By expanding our poll and disaggregating by demographics, we're now able to better understand and convey more deeply how different groups of Americans experience public education," said Joshua P. Starr, the chief executive officer of PDK International. "National survey results and averages are important, but they're a starting point for deeper conversation on why there are different opinions among different groups of Americans. Policymakers need to look at those differences."

Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post writes that the number one problem Americans see in their local schools is insufficient funding, an opinion that has remained on top of the list of concerns for the past 10 years. Sixty-four percent of Americans support school choice, a key element in current school reform. Still. most Americans are opposed to the use of vouchers, or the use of public funding to pay for private school tuition.

Ninety-five percent of Americans agreed that the "quality of teachers" is very important to improve public schools, and 84% were in support of mandatory vaccinations for students attending public schools. The poll also revealed that a majority of Americans are opposed to a large federal role in local education decisions.

These current findings reveal a strong desire for a "new measure of what makes schools great." Although test scores do serve the purpose of illustrating achievement gaps, reporting outcomes, and comparing schools, says Valerie Calderon, a senior research consultant at Gallup, they do not help us understand what makes schools great and students successful.

"Test scores cannot be the sole common denominator by which we understand or describe diverse student bodies and school systems. School is not only where students learn and apply information, but also where they can discover and practice what they do best and learn to be a better version of themselves. Schools should be places where students are excited about learning and where they begin to build the foundation for their own unique future."

Calderon continues by saying that a student's value is not determined by test scores, that the opportunity to do good in the world is not measured by an exam score, and that a student's potential exceeds the parameters of an exam.

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