I recently returned to the teaching profession and some readers wrote to congratulate me.
One longtime reader good-naturedly ribbed me for past columns in which I had expressed support for standardized testing: “Please contact me the moment you have the ‘standardized tests are a waste of time’ epiphany. It will be life changing for you. I will wait by the computer.”
“Not happening,” I replied with a smiley.
I have multiple years of teaching in public schools already under my belt and more than 11 years of having two children in local districts. Throughout those experiences, I’ve never had a problem with annual standardized tests. And I’m not alone.
Results from the 10th annual survey by the scholarly journal Education Next were recently released. The survey asked a nationally representative sample of Americans about the state of education and found that between May and June 2016 — over a year after news accounts about parents’ opting their children out of school tests became commonplace — the public’s commitment to the use of standardized tests to assess students and schools remains firm.
“When people are asked whether the federal government should continue the requirement that all students be tested in math and reading in each grade from 3rd through 8th and at least once in high school, nearly four out of five respondents say they favor the policy,” the report states. “The percentage of people who oppose letting parents opt their children out of state tests is almost as high: 70 percent come down against opt-out. Those percentages remain nearly as high as in 2015. Finally, support for using the same standardized tests across states is higher than support for the [use of national education standards, a la Common Core]. Seventy-three percent favor uniform tests, though support is slightly weaker among Republicans (68 percent) than Democrats (76 percent).”
And this is not an outlier. These attitudes are actually very similar to the results of an early 2016 nationwide survey on the beliefs and aspirations of African-American and Hispanic parents.
The Leadership Conference Education Fund found that 70 percent of Hispanic and 71 percent of African-American parents felt that it was “very important” for schools to use “yearly testing to help parents and teachers know how well children are doing” in their academic progress.
At the time the results were released, representatives of the Education Fund who had interviewed the parents told reporters that these parents saw testing as a tool for helping kids, and not for punishing schools. In fact, there were few references to testing as an issue of concern. No African-American or Hispanic parents voiced resentment to testing.
The opt-out movement has been disparaged by some as being a largely upper-class conceit. And some civil rights leaders decry efforts to undermine testing, which helps provide accountability for minority student academic progress, especially in low-income communities.
To wit, another new national survey — this one by researchers from Teachers College of Columbia University — found that the typical person who advocates for opting out of testing is “a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average.”
Teachers, however, largely disagree with the majorities of people who feel comfortable with standardized testing. According to the Education Next poll, “Only about half of teachers like the idea of continuing the federal requirement that all students in certain grades be tested. And, the percentage of teachers who think parents should be allowed to have their children opt out of tests increased from 36 percent to 43 percent between 2015 and 2016.”
Still, Education Next concludes, “One cannot summarily claim that people are turning against similar standards and tests throughout the United States. … [Continued standardized testing] may well have a longer shelf life among the public — if perhaps not among teachers — than the Common Core brand.”
Though the opt-out “movement” is supposedly growing, it’s telling that, according to the Columbia survey, it includes parents who don’t actually opt out or whose children are not in the public school system. An estimated 20 percent of supporters are not parents of school-aged children.
Standardized testing isn’t perfect — there are myriad factors that come into play for how individual students perform on specific exams. But on the whole, the tests are, like pulse and blood pressure, vital signs of how students progress academically.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.