Just a week after the New York State Education Department confirmed that the proportion of students refusing to take annual state tests had quadrupled from five percent last year to 20 percent this year, the results of a new poll – released on Tuesday – raise questions about how pervasive opposition to testing and the Common Core is around the country.
The poll, sponsored by EducationNext, a journal that covers education reform policies, found that while Common Core – a set of math and reading standards in place in 44 states and the District of Columbia – has declined in popularity, more people voiced support for annual testing. The same poll found a sharp decline in the popularity of the standards among teachers. These findings come at a time when Congress is in the process of revamping the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that mandates annual testing in grades three through eight, as well as once in high school.
Martin West, an associate professor at Harvard University’s education school and an executive editor at EdNext, says that while the poll did reveal some changes in public attitudes, it also showed the enduring popularity of testing.
“Testing has consistently drawn strong support from the general public in polls going back a decade now and that remains the case today,” said West. “There’s not, however, overwhelming support for broader changes to the governance of public education, but there are pluralities that support the Common Core, charter schools and various forms of private school support.”
This poll, which was EdNext’s ninth annual survey, gathered 4,000 responses, including approximately 700 teachers, 700 African-Americans, and 700 Hispanics.
Not only is the public at large supportive of current testing policies, 67 percent to 21 percent, parents support testing by a 44 point margin. Teachers, however, were almost evenly split, supporting current federal testing policies by a margin of 47 percent to 46 percent. Yet the poll found that the majority of teachers, parents and the public are against allowing parents to opt their children out of the tests.
West hopes that the poll’s findings will inform the Congressional rewrite of NCLB. The U.S. House of Representatives’ version, differs from the Senate version in that while both mandate annual testing, the House bill would create protections for parents looking to have their kids sit out the tests.
The poll found that as with testing, teachers were the least likely to support the Common Core standards.
In 2013, EdNext found that 65 percent of the public supported the Common Core standards. That dropped to 53 percent last year and has further slipped to 49 percent in this poll – that compares to 35 percent who oppose the standards. The biggest decline in support for the Common Core was among teachers, who supported the standards by a margin of 76 percent to 12 percent in 2013. While support dropped to 46 percent last year, for the first time the poll this year found more teachers were against, 50 percent, the standards than were for them at 40 percent.
While the poll, consistent with other recent surveys, found that support for Common Core has dropped, it also found that the public was split on who should be calling the shots when it comes to selecting standards – 41 percent said the federal government should play the biggest role, while 43 percent said states should be the driving force. Only 15 percent of people polled said officials at the school district level should be in the driver’s seat. Support for the federal government leading the charge was strongest among African-Americans and Hispanics.
West says that this poll puts the large – and vocal – pockets of opt-outs in perspective.
“You see Montclair, New Jersey, and other places with a large opt-out movement getting a lot of media coverage,” said West. “But the value of a nationally representative survey is that it allows you to speak to what’s really happening around the country.”