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Poll: Most Americans sick of high-stakes standardized tests

The results of a well-regarded annual poll show that most Americans don’t like the high-stakes standardized testing that dominates education reform today and have never heard of the Common Core standards, which are currently being implemented in most of the country.

One of the more interesting results is a reversal of the majority position on whether to evaluate teachers with student standardized test scores. In 2012, a majority supported the concept. In the 2013 poll, a majority reject it.

The 45th annual PDK-Gallup poll, released Wednesday, has long been seen as a solid picture of where public sentiment lies in regard to public education and specific reform initiatives. (PDK is a professional association for educators that brings together leaders, thinkers and doers.) Some of the results conflict with those of other recent polls — especially in regard to American views of standardized testing — but there are big questions about how some of the questions were phrased on the other polls and other methodological issues.

If public opinion mattered — and it’s fair to ask how much it should — many of the education initiatives at the core of the reform agenda for public schools in recent years would be reversed or delayed.

Here are some of the results of the PDK/Gallup poll:

*Fewer than 25 percent of those polled believe increased standardized testing has helped the performance of local public schools.

*Fifty-eight percent of Americans polled reject using student scores from standardized tests to evaluate teachers, a big initiative of reformers.

*Almost two out of three of those polled have never heard of the Common Core State Standards, and most of those who say they know about the Common Core neither understand it nor embrace it. This helps fuel the concern that schools have not had enough time to fully embrace the standards (in fact, Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently urged states to delay a year, from 2014 to 2015) and suggests at the very least that the results of the standardized tests aligned with the standards should not be used for any high-stakes purposes for some time.

* More than 70 percent of those polled expressed trust and confidence in public school teachers and 65 percent have trust in public school principals. For people over 40, the percentages are higher.

* Slightly fewer than 70 percent of those polled support public charter schools, and two out of three support new charter schools in their communities.  A majority said that public charter schools provide a better education than other public schools.  Sixty percent support allowing parents to homeschool their children.

* Seventy percent of Americans oppose private school vouchers — the highest level of opposition to vouchers ever recorded in the PDK-Gallup survey.

*Americans are divided on whether public school teachers should be permitted to strike.

* By a margin of almost two-to-one, Americans support increasing mental health services rather than hiring more security guards to promote school safety. They are split whether more armed security guards should be employed, but a majority don’t want teachers and administrators armed. A majority do support screening visitors to all public schools.

Earlier this week the Associated Press published a story based on a poll done by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, a joint venture of the Associated Press and the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. That reportl said that a majority of parents of school-aged children believe standardized tests do a good job of measuring school-wide and individual performance.

An analysis of that poll done by teacher and education activist Mercedes Schneider raises a lot of questions about the conclusions of the AP/NORC poll, including how questions were worded and how many people actually answered specific questions. She raises the issue of the poll’s sponsor, the Joyce Foundation, which supports using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers and whose board once included the pre-presidential Barack Obama. You can read her analysis here.

I asked the Associated Press to respond to her analysis, and spokesman Paul Colford said that the AP stands by its poll and accompanying story. He said the AP “had editorial control over the design of the survey and ultimately the interpretation of the results.” He pointed as background to this article about how the poll was conducted and to NORC’s Web site.

Another poll on what Americans think about public education was just released by the magazine Education Next and it concluded, in contrast to the PDK/Gallup poll, that a majority of Americans polled in some way support the Common Core standards. Well, if most of them haven’t heard of them, how could there be such support? Perhaps the answers lies in the way the question was worded:

32. As you may know, all states are currently deciding whether or not to adopt the Common Core standards in reading and math. If adopted, these standards would be used to hold the state’s schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the adoption of the Common Core standards in your state?

Seriously, who would answer ‘no’ to that?

It isn’t easy for people who are not familiar with polling methodology — which includes me and nearly everybody else on the planet — to understand the difference between polls that have some real validity and those that don’t. The bottom line is to be very careful about competing claims from this and that poll. They aren’t all alike.