How Strong is Support for Testing?

K-12 Testing

Based on results from polls such as the Phi Delta Kappan annual education survey, it appears that the public largely favors standardized testing. What is more rarely investigated, however, is how important the public thinks testing is as compared with other measures of student outcomes. Some recent studies suggest that support for testing may be neither strong nor deep.


The sixth Kappan poll of teachers' attitudes, reported in the April 1999 issue, asked both teachers and members of the public to evaluate the importance of six measures of school effectiveness. Among teachers, standardized test scores finished a distant sixth, viewed as very important by only 15 percent. Half the public thought tests were very important, but this still ranked sixth, well behind the fifth most important indicator. According to both teachers and the public, the two most important measures are "Percentage of high school graduates who practice good citizenship" and "Percentage of students who graduate from high school." Percentages of graduates going to college or getting jobs and the percent who graduate from college or junior college were also listed as more important than standardized tests.


In the fall of 1968, ten local forums to discuss how to improve public education were held in Illinois (Phi Delta Kappan, April 1999). The suggestions for improving schools, in order of how often the ideas were proposed, were: 1) reducing class size; 2) improved preparation for new and current teachers; 3) making education more of a parent-school partnership; 4) replace the reliance on property taxes as a means to fund schools; and 5) improve school buildings. Forum participants also often pointed to the importance of good citizenship. The use of testing to improve schools, the central strategy promoted for years by "reformers" from President Clinton to many political and business leaders, did not make the list.


Recently, the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy of School Funding reported on the results of over 100 town meetings and of some 1400 survey forms assessing public opinion about education. Most participants did not think highly of the Ohio Proficiency Tests (OPT). Fifty-six percent said the tests were not effective for accountability, while 32 percent approved of them.