Surveys Show Public Supports FairTest's Goals

K-12 Testing

Politicians, test-makers, various corporate leaders and think tanks, and many editorial boards of leading newspapers have conducted massive public relations campaigns in support of both No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and state-mandated high-stakes testing. Despite these efforts, the public remains very skeptical of the testing agenda.


FairTest’s believes there is too great a reliance on testing to make major decisions, multiple measures must be used for making educational decisions, and NCLB needs major changes. Survey and focus group data show that FairTest’s views are in many cases the majority or near-majority opinions on these topics.


For example, Phi Delta Kappan’s 2003 and 2004 annual surveys questioned support for basic components of NCLB (Examiner, Fall 2003).


• When asked, “In your opinion, will a single test provide a fair picture of whether or not a school needs improvement?” two-thirds responded “No” in both years.
• In both years, nearly three-fourths stated that is was not possible “to accurately judge a student’s proficiency in English and math on the basis of a single test.”
• Also in both years, 80% said they were concerned “a great deal” or “a fair amount” that “relying on testing for English and math only to judge a school’s performance will mean less emphasis on art, music, history, and other subjects.”
• In 2003, 66% said they “believe the emphasis of NCLB on standardized testing will encourage teachers to teach to the tests,” and 60% “believe this would be a bad thing.” A similar question was not asked in 2004.


The national PTA surveyed parents last winter. Nine out of ten respondents indicated that “factors in addition to student test scores should be used to effectively measure school performance.” Further, over half said, “NCLB’s reliance on testing has had a negative effect” on untested subject areas. Similarly, on a national survey by the group Public Agenda, almost six in ten said that “schools today place far too much emphasis on standardized tests”.


That same survey reported 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.” An Ohio poll reported that 70% of respondents supported a graduation exam, but 69% said students who fail the test should graduate if they have good grades (Examiner, Fall 2000).


Louis Gerstner, former chair of IBM and founder of the Teaching Commission, has been strongly promoting high-stakes testing. In an April Commission survey, many of the findings contradicted Gerstner’s goals. For example, 52% of the general public and 71% of teachers said standardized tests do not accurately measure student achievement.


Fewer than 30% of respondents to a survey by the Horace Mann Educators Corporation believed standardized tests are the best way to measure children’s school performance. (Examiner, Summer 2001). The 1999 Kappan poll found that only one-quarter of respondents thought standardized tests provided a more accurate picture of student academic progress than do teacher-based sources of information, a finding repeated the following year (Examiner, Winter 1999-2000). Even a poll by the strongly pro-testing Business Roundtable found that its respondents were far more likely to trust a local teacher “in presenting information on school performance” than any other person or group, presumably including corporate leaders (Examiner, Summer 2003).


In depth responses
As people dig deeper into the issues, they seem to become more opposed to test-based accountability. Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) established a national dialogue in 2001 with hundreds of participants engaged in ongoing discussion about NCLB. “Participants increasingly rejected the ‘one-size-fits-all’ notion implied by the NCLB legislation,” explained McREL’s report. They placed increased parent involvement at the top of their priorities for school improvement, but believe that under the testing regime, “Parents may have fewer opportunities to become engaged in their children’s schools.”


Participants, McREL added, want students to become “good citizens” and obtain critical thinking skills. They want schools to “support the development of every child’s unique talents and skills… They want multiple measures of performance and multiple ways for students to demonstrate their competencies.” And they want research and development of better assessments.


• Kappan polls at
• Teaching Commission at, click on press center
• PTA at
• McREL at