Poll Shows Test Concerns Rising

K-12 Testing

The latest annual Gallup-Phi Delta Kappan poll results show that Americans oppose the high-stakes uses of standardized tests in schools, fear the educational damage caused by such uses, and increasingly disagree with the test-based school “reform” strategy embedded in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.


Among those who say they have “a great deal of knowledge” about NCLB, 57 percent view it unfavorably, while only 36 percent view it favorably. Slightly more than half the respondents said they knew enough about NCLB to have an opinion; they split 28-27 percent, favorable-unfavorable. The unfavorable position has more than doubled from 13 to 27 percent in three years, while the favorable percentage has grown from 18 to 28 percent.


According to the poll, by a two-to-one margin the general public believes a single test cannot provide a “fair picture of whether or not a school needs improvement.” The more people profess to know about NCLB, the more they subscribe to this view. By a 4:1 ratio, respondents conclude that using tests only in reading and math will not provide a fair picture. And by nearly 5:1, they expressed concern that the focus on reading and math tests “will mean less emphasis on art, music, history, and other subjects.” Fifty-eight percent agreed that high stakes cause teaching to the test. More than half those polled say that if there is teaching to the test, that is a “bad thing.”


Also by a nearly 5:1 ratio, parents said that if their child is in a school identified for improvement, they would rather improve the school than transfer to another school. By a greater than 5:1 majority, respondents favor measuring a school by growth rather than the fixed percentages "proficient" that NCLB requires.


Respondents were split on whether to blame the school or the law if the school does not make adequate yearly progress, but among those indicating they know a great deal about the law, three-fifths would blame the law.


The 2005 poll included no questions about using tests for graduation or grade promotion. The public was split on whether “one of the measurements” of teachers’ or principals’ quality should be student test scores, with half in favor and slightly few opposed (52 to 44 for teachers, 50 to 46 for principals).


The U.S. public does seem to support the use of “achievement testing,” with 40 percent saying there is “about the right amount” and 17 percent indicating there is not enough. However, the share of those saying there is too much testing increased to 36 from 32 percent last year. Two-thirds support increasing NCLB-mandated high-school testing from one grade to grades 9, 10 and 11.


In sum, people’s concerns about the harmful consequences of high-stakes testing are rising, particularly in relation to NCLB.