Thursday, August 27, 2015

PDK/Gallup: Testing overemphasized;
Local schools earn high marks

Results from a respected annual national public education survey show — unsurprisingly — that people love their local public schools but are not very fond of standardized testing. Public school parents — 97 percent of them — say quality teaching is the best way to improve public schools.

For the first time in its history, the 47th annual PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitude towards Public Schools presents sector-based responses: black, Hispanic and white; political party affiliation; and public school parents.

Although 64 percent of total respondents and 67 percent of public school parents said there is “too much emphasis” on standardized testing in public schools in their community, students aren’t complaining — at least not as much. In response to the statement “My child complains about taking too many standardized tests,” 31 percent of public school parents chose “agree” or “strongly agree,” 24 percent were neutral, and 39 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

“What this shows is that people expressing a lack of confidence — not in assessments themselves but in properly using assessment results,” said IASB Executive Director Roger Eddy. “Assessments used to inform higher standards are fine. People don’t like high-stakes testing. They don’t like a single assessment used to ID the potential of a single child or a single community.”

In addition, respondents were split about the right to opt out of testing, but most public school parents say they would not opt their own children out. Responses to this question showed a significant contrast when comparing overall responses to sectors. Most black respondents — 57 percent, compared to 40 percent overall — said parents should not be allowed to excuse a child from taking standardized tests, and 75 percent — compared to 59 percent overall — said they would not let their own child opt out.

Sector-based responses also highlighted differing opinions on school choice issues. When asked if they favored allowing students and parents to choose which public schools in their communities they would attend, there was minimal difference along racial or ethnic lines. However 73 percent of self-identified Republicans favored school choice, compared to 62 percent for Independents, and 53 percent for Democrats. Also, 75 percent of Republicans favor charter schools, compared to 61 percent of Independents and 50 percent of Democrats. If given school choice, the factor respondents found most important was “quality of the teaching staff,” chosen by over 89 percent of respondents across and within each sector. Other factors favored by over 50 percent: curriculum, maintaining student discipline and class size.

As in last year’s poll, the 2015 numbers show little favor for vouchers, with 57 percent overall opposed to using public funds to pay for students to attend private schools.

“Choice sounds good, but not when it’s diverting funds away from public education,” Eddy said. “And the poll shows that people aren’t buying it. The public is rejecting this false notion of choice.”

As has been the case in previous PDK/Gallup Polls, respondents thought their local schools earned high grades, but schools nationally did not. Seventy percent of public school parents, and 72 percent of the respondents overall, gave their local schools a grade of A or B. Schools judged nationally received Cs (50 percent overall, 48 percent public school parents) and Ds or Fs (about 26 percent).

Respondents grade schools nationally worse than their own local schools.
Click to enlarge. Source:

“The results verify that people support public education in their communities,” Eddy said. “The public is also agreeing with what we believe to be key issues: appropriate use of assessments … and prioritizing spending on public education for higher quality educators and better resources.”

The full report of the PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitude towards Public Schools encourages leaders in public education to use the findings to engage the community, first by localizing the poll and comparing local results to the national survey. Use that comparison to start deeper conversations on the issues that matter the most to parents, educators and community members.

Other questions asked in the 2015 poll concern the utility of assessment results, opinions on the Common Core State Standards, and state vs. federal control over public education. The poll report is here