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Poll: Parents back high-stakes testing

By Philip Elliott

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Aug. 17 2013 4:28 p.m. MDT

Often criticized as too prescriptive and all-consuming, standardized tests have support among parents, who view them as a useful way to measure both students' and schools' performances, according to a poll.

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WASHINGTON — Often criticized as too prescriptive and all-consuming, standardized tests have support among parents, who view them as a useful way to measure both students' and schools' performances, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll.

Most parents also say their own children are given about the right number of standardized tests, according to the AP-NORC poll.

They'd like to see student performance on statewide exams used in evaluating teachers, and almost three-quarters said they favored changes that would make it easier for schools to fire poorly performing teachers.

"The tests are good because they show us where students are at, if they need help with anything," said Vicky Nevarez, whose son Jesse just graduated from high school in Murrieta, Calif. "His teachers were great and if there were problems, the tests let me know."

The polling results are good news for states looking to implement increased accountability standards and for those who want to hold teachers responsible for students' slipping standing against other countries' scores. Teachers' unions have objected to linking educators' evaluations to student performance.

As students prepare to return to classrooms, the AP-NORC Center surveyed parents of students at all grade levels and found:

Sixty-one percent of parents think their children take an appropriate number of standardized tests and 26 percent think their children take too many tests.

Teachers' fates shouldn't rest solely on test results, according to a majority of parents. Fifty-six percent said classroom observations should be part of teachers' evaluations, and 74 percent of all parents said they wanted districts to help struggling teachers.

Despite many Republicans' unrelenting criticism of the Common Core State Standards, in various stages of implementation in 45 states and the District of Columbia, 52 percent parents have heard little or nothing about the academic benchmarks and a third are unsure if they live in a state using them. Still, when given a brief description of what the standards do, about half of parents say educational quality will improve once the standards are implemented, 11 percent think it will get worse, and 27 percent say they'll have no effect.

Seventy-five percent of parents say standardized tests are a solid measure of their children's abilities, and 69 percent say such exams are a good measure of the schools' quality.

"We know when the tests are coming up. They spend a lot of time getting ready for them," said Rodney Land of Lansing, Mich.

His daughter, Selena, will be in eighth grade at a charter school this fall. The weights-and-measures inspector supports the testing because "it shows what they know, and what they should know."

"We need some way to keep track of whether the teachers are spending enough time educating," Land said.

Education union leaders have stood opposed to linking teacher evaluations with these tests, arguing it is unfair to punish teachers for students' shortcomings. They also say teachers have not had sufficient time to rewrite their lessons to reflect new academic benchmarks, such as those found in the Common Core.

When states have adopted the Common Core State Standards, which aim to provide consistent requirements across all states for math and English, test results often falter and the standards can make schools and teachers appear to be faring worse than they did the previous year.

Then, what to do with those test results?

A full 93 percent of parents say standardized tests should be used to identify areas where students need extra help. Smaller majorities think such tests should be used to measure school quality, evaluate teachers or determine whether or not students are promoted or can graduate.

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