Assessment

Test-Makers’ Poll Finds Parents Value Testing

By Lynn Olson — August 02, 2000 5 min read

Several public-opinion polls released this summer have suggested that parents and other voters oppose using tests to make high-stakes decisions about students, such as whether they can graduate or advance to the next grade.

For More Information

Read the “AAP Nationwide Survey of Parents on Standards and Testing.” (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

Now, a new poll released by the Association of American Publishers, the national trade association for the U.S. publishing industry, while not addressing the issue of high-stakes testing, suggests that parents value the information that standardized tests provide.

“A clear majority of American parents reported that standardized tests provided them with important information about their children’s progress in school,” said Michael H. Kean, the chairman of the test committee of the AAP and the vice president for public and governmental affairs at CTB/McGraw-Hill, one of the country’s biggest test-makers.

Benefits Cited

Sixty-three percent of parents surveyed said standardized tests provide benefits to parents.

Michael H. Kean

Among the benefits respondents cited most often were: knowing how well their children are doing in class, seeing the areas where their children need work so that parents can help them, and knowing how their children stand in relation to others.

Of those surveyed, 74 percent said they get information about their children’s progress in school from standardized-test scores. And eight in 10 said the information provided by such tests is “very” or “somewhat” important to measure progress. Even higher percentages of parents reported getting information about their children’s progress from teachers, report cards, progress reports, and scores on classroom tests.

“This year, we’ve seen several other surveys suggesting that the public opposes standardized testing,” Maureen DiMarco, a member of the AAP’s test committee, said at a press briefing held here last month to release the new poll results.

“However, if you look closely at all the surveys on testing, you’ll see that the public does not have concerns about standardized testing in general, but does have concerns about make-or-break, high-stakes assessments,” said Ms. DiMarco, the vice president of educational and governmental affairs for Houghton Mifflin Co. and a secretary of education under former California Gov. Pete Wilson.

“We are finding that parents want what test publishers have long advocated,” she said, “which are multiple measures of student performance that yield valid, fair, and reliable information for teachers and parents.”

‘Don’t Ask’

Monty Neil, the executive director of the Cambridge, Mass.-based FairTest, a nonprofit group that advocates the fairer and more equitable use of assessments, said: “There’s absolutely no surprise that when asked if they want some standardized testing, the majority of people say yes. Every poll has shown that.”

“The ironic part,” he said, “is the hottest issue is high stakes, and they don’t ask any questions about it. But they make their own inferences that this is what people are upset about, then loftily declare that we, the publishers, are also upset about high stakes when they continue to sell their tests knowing they’re going to be used that way. They’ve put out a poll to try to bolster and validate their business, while ignoring the most controversial aspect of their business.”

The nationally representative poll of 1,023 parents of school-age children was conducted in April, May, and June by JD Franz Research Inc., of Sacramento, Calif. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

About 40 percent of those surveyed said tests measure some of the elements that are important about their children’s education. Thirty percent said the tests measure most of the important criteria, but only 14 percent said they measure all of them.

More Frequent Testing

Far from having a problem with tests, Ms. DiMarco argued, parents “seem to want more testing.”

Two-thirds of those surveyed said they would like to receive standardized-test results for their children in every grade. In a follow-up question, half those parents indicated such tests should be given twice a year to measure progress from the beginning to the end of the school year. The other half said tests should be given once a year.

Maureen Dimarco

In addition, 87 percent of parents said they would pay attention to rankings of schools and districts if published, and 77 percent said that standardized tests are an informative basis for such rankings.

Unlike two other recent surveys of parents and voters, conducted for the American Association of School Administrators and Sylvan Learning Center, the new poll did not ask parents what they thought about the use of tests for high-stakes purposes. Instead, it focused on the information that parents receive from assessments.(“Teaching & Learning: Parent Opinion,” June 21, 2000 and “Poll Shows Public Concern Over Emphasis on Standardized Tests,” July 12, 2000.)

The AAP said the survey marked the start of a new information campaign by the test publishers to help inform parents, policymakers, and especially teachers about the role of tests in education.

“It is not the tests, it’s the information, knowledge about, and use of tests that we really need to focus on,” Ms. DiMarco said. In particular, she argued, teachers need more help understanding and using test results and communicating those results to parents. “All too often,” she said, “the reality is the teacher gets handed the score report just as coldly as the parent does.”

Understanding the Results

According to the survey, nine out of 10 parents said they either “completely” or “somewhat” understand results from standardized tests. And 89 percent said they discuss their children’s test results with them. But only 58 percent of parents said they discuss test results with their children’s teachers. And only 21 percent believed that teachers use test results.

In addition, eight in 10 parents said they would like to receive a simple but comprehensive explanation of how to interpret test scores.

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A version of this article appeared in the August 02, 2000 edition of Education Week as Test-Makers’ Poll Finds Parents Value Testing

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