Wrong about standardized tests

1335-1243972165NX9TA couple weeks ago I blogged that it seemed there were as many defenders of standardized testing as there were defenders of Alex Rodriguez and Lance Armstrong. My perception was influenced by the many blogs and news articles I continually read as well as the number of conversations I have had with researchers, policymakers, and educators about dangers of standardized testing. Of course, these are anecdotal and not based on any hard data which is why I was completely wrong in assuming standardized tests had few supporters.

In fact, standardized tests have significant support from a group within the education community that I failed to recognize, parents. Students may be the ones actually receiving an education but in reality parents are the true consumers of education which make their opinion extremely valuable, certainly much more valuable than any blogger, journalist, researcher, or policy analyst (including yours truly).

Which is why the results from a recent poll conducted by the Associated Press- NORC Center for Public Affairs Research on parent attitudes of the quality of education in the United States are so intriguing. While the perception is that standardized tests are as popular as serial cheaters, a large majority of parents support the use of standardized testing. Nearly three out of four parents believe it is very important or extremely important that their child’s school regularly assess whether or not their child is meeting statewide expectations for their grade level. Perception is also that students are just taking too many tests, yet just 26 percent of parents believe this to be true. Another perception is that students in low-performing schools are being inundated with standardized tests yet parents of children in low-performing schools are more likely to state their child takes too few standardized tests than parents in higher-performing schools.

Contrary to popular belief, parents believe standardized tests provide an accurate measure of their child’s ability and the quality of the school their child attends. In fact, 75 percent of parents say that standardized tests are an accurate or somewhat accurate measure of their child’s performance while 69 percent of parents believe they are an accurate or somewhat accurate measure of their child’s school. This is likely why over 90 percent of parents believe standardized tests should be used to identify areas where students need extra help and why over 80 percent of parents believe they should be used to ensure all students meet grade-level standards. The majority (60 percent) of parents also believe that standardized tests should be used to evaluate teachers although they also believe teachers should be evaluated based on classroom observations and student feedback as well.

If perception was indeed reality then standardized testing would only be popular among policymakers and so-called reformers who have forced standardized tests on public schools without any regard to those who are impacted most. While the poll shows a lack of support by teachers, a large majority of parents do in fact support the use of standardized testing for a variety of reasons. They see it is a valuable tool to help improve their child’s performance as well as determine how their child stacks up to grade-level standards.  Of course, standardized tests are just one tool and other measures should be used to evaluate students and schools as well. However, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water so we should be continually working to find the right balance of standardized tests and other measures to evaluate and improve the performance of all our students and schools and end the most outrageous perception of all, that our public schools are failing. – Jim Hull

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