2 September 2015: Public changing its views on testing

Public finally changing its views on testing

It has been a long road but a common-sense view on testing and teacher evaluation has evolved across the nation. With one exception, the 2015 PDK/Gallup Poll on the Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools unequivocally supports what teachers and other professional educators have been saying all along: a.) there is too much testing, and b.) teachers ought not to be judged based upon their students’ performances.

Given that, one wonders if we can move past the blame game waged by anti-public education activists and politicians and by otherwise public education stalwarts such as President Obama, Secretary of Education Duncan, Governor Hickenlooper, and Senator Bennet.

On the question whether standardized testing is helpful, 54 percent said no. Notably, support for testing is stronger among African Americans and Latinos, probably due to their frustration with discriminatory funding practices implemented by some states including Colorado that contribute to the inferior education their children receive.

Support is higher for tests that have meaning, in this case, the traditional SAT and ACT college-bound students take. In Colorado, all juniors are required to take the ACT whether they are planning on college or not. That makes sense for a number of reasons, first and foremost to give every student the sense and hope he/she can and ought to pursue some sort of post-secondary education. Studies show those who do tend to be more successful than those who don’t.

When it comes to the question about the greatest challenge our schools face, the largest plurality says it is funding, followed by attracting qualified teachers, which is not surprising. Low pay and poor conditions in many schools and districts and the scorn often heaped upon dedicated professionals discourage highly qualified young from pursuing teaching careers. Democrats and public school parents contend that is true by larger percentages than both Republicans and those without immediate vested interests in public education: school-age children.

Another eye opener regards the question about how well the schools are doing overall. Despite the drum from the right since Ronald Reagan’s presidency about ostensibly failing schools, less than a third say schools nationwide deserve either a D or an F grade unlike Congress that generally gets less than a ten percent approval rating.

Respondents are generally more inclined to aver their local schools are doing better compared to the rest of the nation’s. When it comes to schools they are more familiar with, over half give their schools an A or a B. To schools they only hear about through the media—all others—fifty percent give a C. That speaks much about the tendency to buy into an un-true narrative.

With regard to control, a sizable majority support school boards making the calls on what is taught.  Only a quarter said their state should, with 15 percent saying the federal government. Again, that makes sense when comparing the result to the one about the effectiveness of standardized testing. Logic dictates that one test cannot credibly measure how students and schools are doing relative to others if they follow varying educational paths.

In the end, it is completely irrelevant for educational purposes to compare how students and schools are doing vis-à-vis one another. The only measure ought to be whether the student is proficient or not with regard to the standard being addressed.

In the political arena however, comparing schools is critical. Some of that makes sense such as I write above with minority communities being short-changed when it comes to their schools. The rest, though, is dastardly, a great way to hype hysteria and get votes.

One other telling point from the poll is the overwhelming rejection the public has for vouchers, which are essentially educational welfare payments that give parents tax dollars to fund their private choices. Sixty-three percent oppose the exact programs being implemented in Douglas County schools and being pushed by the rightwing school board majority in Jefferson County.

The one exception I take to the findings is on the issue of charter schools, a well-intentioned concept that unfortunately has been bastardized. More on that, though, in a future piece.

Like other thoughtful, scientific polls, this one gives plenty food for thought. Perhaps, it will prompt us to move from blaming to fixing, beginning with repealing the hare-brained SB 191 that says teachers pay if their students refuse to engage.

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