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New survey finds surprising opinions about tests

A new national poll offers a basis beyond anecdote to report what parents, children and educators think about tests.

Despite a public outcry, only about 15 percent of parents feel strongly enough to opt their children out of the tests and most students don't feel over-tested, according to this study. It's from Gallup and the Northwest Evaluation Association, a not-for-profit that markets the Measures of Academic Progress test to schools.

The pollsters found that opinions about tests diverged based on income: wealthier parents are less likely than the poor to agree that tests improve learning. Also, administrators at schools with data coaches to help interpret test results say teaching has improved, and low-income schools more frequently report having a data coach.

Another key finding: there is a lot of confusion about the different types of tests, and there are many, each offering different kinds of information. Summative tests, for instance, measure what students have learned at the end of the year, and are used to judge teachers. Interim tests identify students' strengths and weaknesses and track their growth. Formative tests help teachers figure out what's working, or what isn't, with the way they are teaching.

The people at NWEA fear that the frustration over "accountability" tests used to judge teachers will turn the public against all tests. So they did this study -- actually the third one since 2012 -- to bring some clarity to the subject.

"We feel there's a lot of misunderstanding around assessment perceptions, and that gets in the way of education," said Kelly Goodrich, the vice president for policy and advocacy at NWEA.

The group may have a vested interest, but its survey is based on phone interviews with about a thousand students and with a similar number of parents and teachers. It has a margin of sampling error in the 4 percentage point range.

You can judge the survey for yourself here.

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About the Author

Ty Tagami writes about K-12 education, focusing on statewide issues.