Surveys Show Public Questions Testing

K-12 Testing

Recent opinion surveys undermine the often-made claim that parents and the general public support high-stakes testing.


A national survey of 800 registered voters conducted for the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) found that nearly two-thirds of respondents disagreed with the statement, “A student’s progress for one school year can be accurately summarized by a single standardized test.” Forty-two percent strongly disagreed, 20% disagreed somewhat, while 21% agreed somewhat and only 11% strongly agreed. Five percent said they did not know. The margin of error for the poll was +/-3.5%.


Despite the enormous national push to use tests for high stakes purposes--from President Clinton, both major presidential candidates, many governors, business groups, and much of the media--the public remains skeptical. When AASA asked whether students who failed to pass a statewide standardized test should be kept back a grade, 49% disagreed and 45% agreed. Similarly, 48% disagreed that standardized tests accurately reflect what children know about the subject being tested, while 45% agreed. For both questions, the intensity of disagreement was stronger than the intensity of agreement.


Some state polls show even stronger anti-testing sentiments. In Virginia, where there is a very visible, parent-led campaign against the state Standards of Learning (SOL) exams, a recent survey of 800 parents found widespread dissatisfaction with the SOLs. A mere 17% agreed that the tests are “an accurate measure of my child’s achievement,” while 61% disagreed. Sixty-five percent agreed, “Teachers spend too much time teaching to the test rather than teaching other important materials and topics,” while 13% disagreed. The ideological agendas driving the testing expansion also bother many people: 70% of the respondents agreed, “The SOLs are more politically than educationally motivated,” with only 9% in disagreement. The poll was conducted by George Mason University professor John E. Bonfadini. (For more information on Virginia, contact Parents Across Virginia United to Reform SOLs;; 540/586-6149; 506 Bedford Avenue, Bedford VA 24523.)


In Massachusetts, where a growing movement of parents, teachers and students is combating massive corporate and political efforts to promote state exams (see Examiner, Spring 2000), a Massachusetts Teachers Association poll found widespread opposition to high-stakes use of test scores. Asked to choose whether tests should be one of several factors for evaluating students and schools, or be the primary factor, 70% of respondents (and 81% of public school parents) preferred the first formulation, while only 22% chose the second option. (For more information on the Coalition for Authentic Reform in Education and its campaign against the state’s exam system, contact FairTest.)


Not surprisingly, the Association of American Publishers (AAP), a trade association representing many test manufacturers, “spun” results of its own poll to conclude, “Survey Finds Strong Parental Support for Testing.” But AAP included no questions about using tests as the sole factor in determining grade promotion or graduation and admitted that the public “does have concerns about make-or-break, high stakes assessments.” AAP spokespeople stressed the need for “multiple measures of student performance,” even though some AAP member firms look the other way when tests are misused (see Examiner, Spring 1999).