Sunday, August 25, 2013

Survey shows public skeptical about school testing, Common Core standards

By PETER HANCOCK, The Lawrence Journal-World

LAWRENCE, KAN. --- A national survey released this week shows a growing disconnect between the American public and the education policies being adopted in most states, including Kansas.

That's especially true about the new Common Core standards for reading and math that are going into effect in Kansas and 44 other states, as well as the increased use of standardized tests to measure how well schools and districts are performing.

The survey by Gallup and PDK International showed nearly two-thirds of those interviewed had never heard of the Common Core standards, and fewer than half believed they would help make the United States more competitive globally, one of the key stated goals of the project.

Meanwhile, 77 percent of those surveyed said the increased use of standardized tests to measure student performance had either hurt American education or made no difference at all. Only 22 percent said they believe increased testing has improved public schools.

That presents a huge challenge for state and local education officials who are now working to put the new Common Core standards into effect, apparently in the face of widespread public skepticism.

“Americans support certain key ideals or goals, but don't understand the programs or initiatives being pursued to improve student achievement,” said William Bushaw, executive director of PDK International, a professional association of educators formerly known as Phi Delta Kappa. “Our local and national leaders must do a better job of explaining what they're doing and why.”

Similar local sentiments

Jennifer Roth, whose two daughters attend Pinckney school in Lawrence, said she agrees with most of those findings, especially when it comes to standardized tests.

“I'm just not clear on what that data gets used for,” Roth said. “And not knowing what the purpose or the end use of this data is, it's troubling when you consider the amount of time and pressure it puts on students and teachers.”

That may not be surprising, considering most of the standardized testing has no impact on any individual student's grades, or their ability to be promoted or to graduate. The tests are required under state and federal law to measure how well the schools and districts are performing, to determine their eligibility for federal funding and state accreditation.

Starting this year in Lawrence — and next year in most other districts in the state — test scores also will be used as one of many factors in teacher evaluations, which can affect decisions about contract renewal and tenure.

But Roth said she has a little more faith than most people in the PDK/Gallup survey in the new Common Core standards and their ability to improve student outcomes.

As an active member of the Pinckney PTO, Roth said she has heard of the Common Core standards, although she concedes she doesn't know many specifics about them. But unlike many other Americans, she's willing to put her faith in the education experts who are recommending them.

“Yeah, I think that if you have a host of educational experts at various levels, and they say that this is the way that 21st century education should go, then I'm going to put a lot of stock in that and say that's the direction we ought to move in,” Roth said.

Challenge for state leaders

Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker said she believes reactions like Roth's are closer to the norm in Kansas, although she was surprised by the polling numbers showing such low public awareness of the Common Core standards.

For the past several months at State Board of Education meetings, DeBacker and members of the board have faced a steady stream of people speaking out against Common Core standards.

Many of them argue, incorrectly, that the standards are a federal mandate and that they require the collection of massive amounts of personal data about students and their families.

“And that's what the frustrating part isfor me, is that if you start visiting with somebody who is opposed to Common Core, and you start asking them specific questions (such as), 'What do you think a fourth grader should know in math?' they're surprised that that's exactly what's in the fourth-grade standards,” DeBacker said.