By Teresa Watanabe and Marina Villeneuve, L.A. Times, http://lat.ms/175QPBZ
August 21, 2013, 8:23 p.m. :: In a reversal of public opinion, a majority of Americans now oppose using student test scores to evaluate teachers and more believe that increased testing has hurt rather than helped improve public schools, a new survey shows.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans polled also oppose the public release of student test scores of an individual teacher -- a shift from two years ago, when a majority supported it, according to the survey released Wednesday by Gallup and PDK International, a global educators association.
The growing public wariness about standardized testing comes as the Obama administration and many districts across the nation are increasingly advocating the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers, boost pay, overhaul failing campuses and make other high-stakes decisions.
“We believe there is a disconnect between what policymakers are pushing forward as opposed to what direction Americans believe schools should go,” said William J. Bushaw, executive director of PDK International.
The survey found more negative public attitudes toward standardized test scores and their uses than another poll released this week by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. That one found that more than two-thirds of those surveyed said standardized tests were a good measure of a school’s educational quality and 60% said test scores should be used in a teacher’s evaluation.
In the 45th annual poll by PDK/Gallup, a nationally representative sample of 1,001 American adults, including a sub-sample of parents, were interviewed by telephone in May. The margin of error was 3%.
The AP-NORC poll was based on telephone interviews in June with 1,025 American adult parents of children in kindergarten through 12th grade. The margin of error was 4.1%.
The different poll results underscore how the wording of questions can drive responses as well as the ambivalence many Americans feel toward standardized testing, said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
“Voters are wary of too much reliance on testing but also recognize the need for some quantitative measurement,” he said. “They are very conflicted on this question.”
But others seized on the PDK/Gallup poll findings as evidence of a national pushback against high-stakes standardized testing. Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a Boston-based organization, said the nation had reached a "tipping point" against standardized testing, which has prompted strikes, boycotts, walkouts and protest rallies in Chicago, Seattle, Denver, Portland, Texas and elsewhere.
“I think folks are tired of beating up schools, teachers and students with standardized tests," said Mikki Cichocki, secretary-treasurer of the California Teachers Assn. "No one is saying there's no place for standardized tests but they are being used incorrectly ... as a punishment tool."
The PDK/Gallup poll found that 36% of those surveyed believed increased testing had hurt schools compared to 28% in 2007. Only 22% believed testing had helped schools; the rest said it made no difference. The survey also found that 58% opposed using student test scores in teacher evaluations, a reversal from last year when 52% favored it.
The survey also found that most Americans have never heard of new national benchmarks for reading and math known as Common Core. Those benchmarks are being phased in by 45 states and Washington D.C.
“These findings suggest that school systems are not ready to implement this initiative,” Daniel Domenech, executive director of the American Federation of Teachers and the School Superintendents Assn., said in a statement.
The poll also found broad support for charter schools. A majority of respondents said charters offer a better education than traditional public schools.
But 70% of those surveyed opposed using public dollars to pay for private school education -- the strongest opposition to vouchers ever recorded in the survey.