Despite Union Statements, National Polls Show Public Support for Testing

About this time last year, I was puzzling over the presence of a strange phantom statistic quoted by NEA in the wake of the annual PDK/Gallup national education poll. The statistic was eventually released weeks after the rest of the poll, which means NEA didn’t lie about it. They did, however, get special access to an unverifiable number that happened to support their very strong push against evaluation systems that include student growth. No one can easily refute poll results without, you know, having the poll results, so NEA got some good mileage out of that one.

But there’s no use crying over spilled statistics. Besides, the main reason I was interested in that number in the first place was the fact that it stood in stark contrast with data gathered by another nationally representative poll conducted by Education Next—data showing clear public support for the use of student performance when making teacher tenure decisions. This year, though, the polls appear to mostly agree with one another on testing issues. Not that NEA or AFT are very keen on sharing that fact.

The 2015 version of the annual Education Next poll and its associated report have been in the wild for some time now. The PDK/Gallup results have also been released. I strongly encourage you to dig through both polls, as there is very interesting stuff in each, much of which is broken out by subgroups that show important (and illuminating) differences. Highlights include some fascinating data on declining support for Common Core, as well interesting insights into the role the federal government ought to have in education. But perhaps the most interesting results of the polls have to do with public support for testing.

The PDK survey is happy, ecstatic even, to toot the anti-testing horn. In fact, the flashy poll report is interspersed with anti-testing testimonials with headlines like “Testing is ruining school for kids” and “Test scores lead to charters.” The inclusion of these nakedly political statements doesn’t do much to assuage my longstanding (and more recently confirmed) concerns about the PDK poll’s leanings. Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that the design of the PDK poll report bears a striking resemblance to union-led “More Than a Score” campaign in Colorado and elsewhere; the National Education Association has a history of funding this particular poll.

Once again, the unions wasted no time putting the results out. NEA issued a press release trumpeting the uselessness of testing (and its associated evaluation systems) and a supposed slip in support for private school choice. AFT did the same one day earlier. And seemingly, the data they’ve chosen to use supports them. The PDK/Gallup poll finds that 64 percent of the public believes there is too much emphasis on testing, and 55 percent oppose the idea of tying standardized test data to teacher evaluations.

But there’s a bit more to the story. Not surprisingly, the union does not appear inclined to flaunt the fact that the 55 percent opposition to the idea of using test scores in evaluations is a significant drop from last year’s 61 percent. They are similarly not shouting from the rooftops about the fact that fully 67 percent of the public believes that “using tests to measure what students have learned” are somewhat or very important to improving public schools in their communities.

That 67 percent figure must be a magic number this year. Funnily enough, the Ed Next poll finds that 67 percent of respondents saying that they support continuing mandates for annual testing in grades 3-8 and one test in high school, with only 21 percent opposing such an idea. And then again, the Ed Next poll finds that 67 percent of the public believe that standardized tests are doing at least a “fair” job of measuring what students are learning in reading and math.

The quick-and-dirty seems to be that despite NEA’s and AFT’s loud proclamations to the contrary, there is significant support for standardized testing in the nation.

I think we can all admit that there is important work to be done when it comes to preserving instructional time and choosing which tests our children should take, but we should also be mindful of the fact that testing, as the American public seems to acknowledge, can be useful as we work toward the academic success of all students.