Polls Show Skepticism about Tests

K-12 Testing

A new round of national and state polls indicates widespread skepticism over high-stakes testing, despite the best efforts of corporate and political figures (including presidential candidates Bush and Gore) to sell such testing to the public.


A national survey by the group Public Agenda is perhaps the most significant. It found that nearly that nearly eight out of ten respondents agreed "it's wrong to use the results of just one test to decide whether a student gets promoted or graduates." Almost six in ten (59%) say that "the schools today place far too much emphasis on standardized tests."


This appears to contradict a poll by the Business Roundtable (BR), a corporate group favoring high-stakes tests, which reported that more than two-thirds of those questioned thought students should pass a test before graduating or being promoted. However, the same respondents also said that teacher evaluations and grades were better methods to determine promotion. They were not asked whether they might prefer a combination of standardized tests, school work and grades in which a test does not serve as a sole hurdle. Thus, the superficial conflict with Public Agenda’s results might not be real. These poll results, as well as recent surveys conducted by the American Association of School Administrators and Sylvan Learning (see Examiner, Summer 2000), demonstrate that parents and other adults are increasingly disturbed by high-stakes tests.


An Ohio poll conducted by the Governor’s Commission for Student Success seems to reinforce this finding: while 70% of respondents supported a graduation exam, 69% said students who fail the test should graduate if they have good grades. And though 62% of those polled said they preferred retaining students who did not pass the reading portion of the grade four Ohio Proficiency Test, they also thought grades and teacher evaluations were better tools than tests to decide promotion.


The public generally believes that information from teachers is most meaningful. When Phi Delta Kappan’s Gallup Poll asked what are the best means to “measure student academic achievement,” 44% of respondents said “portfolios of students’ work,”41% said “combination of standardized and teacher-designed tests,” but only 13% named “single standardized test.” Kappan’s editor Pauline Gough, said their poll “offers no support for the idea of basing decisions on the results of a single, high-stakes test.”


Support for testing programs also was weak in surveys conducted in Virginia and Minnesota. A Washington Post survey of 1,031 registered Virginia voters reported that 51 percent of the respondents said the Standards of Learning (SOL) testing program "is not working," while 34 percent said the program "is working." Forty-three percent said the tests should be substantially changed and 21 percent wanted them to be "ended entirely," while only 24 percent said they should continue as is. These findings were confirmed by a Richmond Times-Dispatch which reported that 65% of the respondents to its poll said the SOL tests were not the best way to assess student learning.


The Minnesota poll, conducted jointly by several news organizations, found that fewer than half the respondents “thought the emphasis on statewide tests...was a good thing.” In that state, hundreds of students had mistakenly been denied a diploma due to a test scoring mistake (see Examiner, Summer 2000). However, state leaders have floated a plan to increase the amount of testing.


-- Public Agenda is at http://www.publicagenda.org
-- Business Roundtable is at http://www.businessroundtable.org/
-- Kappan poll is in the Sept. 2000 issue and at http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kappan.htm