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Elementary-School Principals Surveyed on Testing

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Elementary-school principals say standardized tests serve some useful purposes, but they do not believe a new series of national exams will improve learning in the nation's classrooms, according to survey results released last week by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Furthermore, the survey revealed, principals oppose any standardized tests for children under 6.

Results of the survey of more than 800 elementary- and middle-school principals were released in conjunction with the association's annual convention, which continues this week in New Orleans.

"Tests should play a part in the process of education rather than function as an end result,'' said Samuel G. Sava, the executive director of the 26,000-member N.A.E.S.P. "Frankly, principals are concerned that the nation is spending valuable resources testing children rather than helping them achieve.''

Most principals would stop short of eliminating standardized tests altogether, the survey found. Fifteen percent say they would definitely get rid of the tests, 47 percent say they might eliminate them, and 35 percent want to keep the tests.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • 65 percent of principals are concerned that non-educators--parents, the public, and the media--do not know how to interpret test scores, and 78 percent say it is unfair to judge a school's quality by scores alone.
  • Only 11 percent report they have a say in selecting their students' tests; those decisions are more often made by state legislators, state boards of education, and local school districts.
  • 76 percent say standardized tests influence what is taught in schools.
  • Responses were mixed on the question of whether test results label elementary-schools students throughout their school careers: 46 percent say results may label children, while 53 percent disagree.

The principals also offered their opinions on alternative forms of evaluation.

They say portfolios, collections of classroom (as opposed to standardized) tests, and teacher evaluations could be used instead. Some also suggest using criterion-referenced tests, which compare scores to established standards, rather than using scores to compare students with each other.

Another survey released during the association's convention shows that students think it is more important for leaders to be honest than patriotic, experienced, or intelligent. The survey was sent to more than 1,000 elementary- and middle-school student-council leaders nationwide by the N.A.E.S.P.'s American Student Council Association.--D.G.

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