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September 7, 2017

PDK Poll: Public school parents highlight value of interpersonal skills, career preparation

The 49th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, released last week, highlights a shift in public opinion away from standard measures of school quality based solely on academic achievement. Instead, today’s parents favor alternate measures—including instruction in skills like cooperation, respect, and problem solving—that reflect the changing role of the public school. This shift is accompanied by a near record high opinion of the nation’s public schools, with one in seven respondents giving their local public schools an ‘A’ grade. This is the highest level since 1974, and reflects a significant jump over the past decade, with the portion of ‘A’ grades up 9% since 2007. Parents of students attending a public school—those most familiar with the quality of schools today—are even more complimentary, with 62% giving their local public schools an ‘A’ or ‘B’ grade.

Throughout the poll, respondents continually indicated the importance of nontraditional measures of school quality. As the role of today’s public school has grown to include resources and instruction outside of traditional academics, Americans have begun to perceive these offerings as measures of school quality. Parallel to this trend is the fact that nearly half (49%) of public school parents polled no longer feel that standardized tests measure the things that it is important for their child to learn. Respondents to PDK’s polling diminished the overall importance of standardized tests, with just 6% identifying student performance on standardized tests as the most important factor in school quality. Instead, parents expressed a shift toward valuing skills outside of the traditional academic curriculum, citing the availability of technology and engineering classes and instruction in interpersonal skills as particular indicators of school quality. Respondents showed especially broad-based support for providing students with instruction in interpersonal skills, with 82% of respondents saying that teaching skills like cooperation, respect, and persistence is very or extremely important.

Parents’ enthusiasm for nontraditional measures of school quality extends outside of the traditional classroom environment, with approximately 7 in 10 respondents highlighting the need for extracurricular activities and art and music classes. Respondents also placed high value on preparing students for life after high school through instruction in practical job skills not covered in the standard curriculum. More than eight in ten Americans (82%) support classes focused on job or career skills, and 86% support local schools offering certificate or licensing programs to qualify students for future work. Today’s parents recognize all that can be learned in the public school setting through career training, arts education, and extracurricular activities, and value those interpersonal and other nonacademic skills highly when evaluating school quality.

Americans’ support for nontraditional offerings encompasses more than just instruction in interpersonal and career skills. The vast majority of respondents supported wraparound support programs, which expand the role of the public school to meet the needs of the whole child. Nine in ten respondents (92%) expressed support for after-school programs, with strong majorities also supporting the provision of mental health (87%), general health (79%), and dental (65%) services in public schools. Notably, about three-quarters of Americans said that public schools providing these wraparound supports should be able to seek additional funding. The majority of respondents recognized the value of additional wraparound supports in public schools that go beyond the traditional curriculum. Along with other nonacademic factors like interpersonal skills and job training, wraparound supports are becoming part of Americans’ increasingly positive image of the local public school.

Throughout this year’s PDK Poll, Americans emphasized the importance of the factors outside of traditional academic achievement in their perception of school quality. Today’s public school offers many services beyond traditional classroom instruction, and parents are embracing the expanding definition of a public school community. As more Americans recognize the value of a public school education, the local public school now receives an ‘A’ grade at the highest rate in more than 40 years.






May 14, 2015

Proficiency Rates Differ Between State and National Tests

Large gaps in proficiency rates still exist between state and national tests according to a new report by Achieve, Inc. It has been known for several years that more students reach the proficiency benchmark on their state assessment than on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), and that gap remains today. In fact, proficiency rates on most state assessments are 30 percentage points higher than they are on NAEP.  What this means is that if one of these states reported 80 percent of their students reached the proficiency benchmark on their state assessment, than just 50 percent likely reached it on NAEP.

In some states the gap was even larger. In Georgia, for example, the difference was 60 percentage points in 4th grade reading which was the largest difference in the country. In this case 94 percent of 4th graders were deemed proficient on the Georgia state assessment while just 34 percent reached the proficiency level on NAEP. Georgia wasn’t alone. Louisiana, Alaska, and Arkansas all had gaps of at least 50 percentage points. Similar results were found in 8th grade math as well.

However, there were states with small if any gaps. In fact, in New York more students were deemed proficient on NAEP than on the state assessment in both 4th grade reading and 8th grade math. The report also singled out a dozen or so states that had similar proficiency rates on their state assessments as on NAEP, or as the report called them the “Top Truth Tellers.”

The results aren’t entirely surprising. The Achieve report is based on results from the 2013-14 state assessments when nearly all states were still using older tests. Most states will be giving new Common Core aligned tests for the first time this year which will likely lead to lower proficiency rates as was seen in Kentucky and New York — states that have been administering Common Core aligned assessments for a couple years already. What will be interesting is how this analysis will look a year from now when state scores are based on more rigorous Common Core aligned assessments. I’m guessing the Common Core states will see their scores more aligned with NAEP while those who don’t will still have significant gaps. The question remains, will there be more pushback in states with lower proficiency rates or in those with larger gaps? I guess we will have to wait until next year to find out.—Jim Hull






November 20, 2014

Growing concerns on testing

A recent opinion piece in the Denver Post challenged the commonly claimed notion that American public students are being tested too much. Recently, high school seniors in Colorado refused to take state assessments in science and social studies, arguing these assessments do not reflect what they have been taught.

But Alicia Caldwell, an editorial writer at the Post, writes that students from third to 12th grade are only tested 1.4% of the time in school, citing data from the state of Colorado’s Department of Education. Caldwell also points out that there was local input on these testing decisions, as eight educators from these school districts were placed on the committee that enacted the social studies standards in 2009.

These standards were put into place because Colorado students were required to take way too many remedial classes in college, which they received no credit but have to pay for. In essence, the Colorado students had to pay for classes that they should have already passed in high school. Finally, the author highlights the role of local districts, as “local districts are layering their own assessments on top of those required for the state, adding to total test time.” This reminds us that the amount of testing is the result of federal, state, and local policies. If parents or students, such as those in Colorado, are complaining about too much testing, then it is the school board and local government’s responsibility to make their testing information transparent.

Colorado is not the only state where communities have voiced their concern on testing. Maryland has also engaged in the debate over the right amount of testing. Eighth-graders in Baltimore schools, for instance, spend 14 to 46 hours a year on standardized assessments. A school year amounts to approximately 1000 instruction hours, so this would mean students are spending 1.4 to 4.6% on testing. When expressed as a percentage, this level of testing does not seem as significant as some of testing critics claim it to be. In Anne Arundel County, students are tested 46 hours per year and 33 of these tests are locally mandated tests. This again demonstrates the role of local government and school board decisions in testing.

An upcoming brief from the Center for Public Education will examine these and other concerns on testing and explain what studies have found on the subject. Stay tuned!







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