In the year 2000, the biggest education story was the alleged “backlash” against standards-based reform. In the well-established tradition of “pack journalism,” the major media warned of a movement growing among parents and educators to curtail testing for promotion or graduation. Sympathetic reporters told vivid stories about anguished students, distraught parents, and angry teachers who complained that the tests were unfair and that children were suffering because of the stress induced by state tests.
Time for a reality check. Three major surveys in the past eighteen months have shown that this portrait was simply untrue. There are certainly critics of state testing, and there are some state tests that are woefully inadequate and need to be improved. But the fact is that, by decisive numbers, the public, parents, and teachers understand the value of standards-based reform and remain committed to it.
The American Federation of Teachers released a Peter D. Hart survey of public schoolteachers and principals in August 1999. The survey reported that teachers endorse standards-based reform by 73 percent to 19 percent, as do 92 percent of principals. Sixty-six percent of teachers said that the implementation of standards in their schools had had a positive impact, as compared to 15 percent who judged their effect to be negative. Among teachers, the strongest support for standards came from those in urban schools and from black and Hispanic teachers.
In August 2000, the Business Roundtable released another public opinion survey that showed overwhelming support for standards-based reform among all groups, regardless of race, income, or political party. When asked whether students should be required to pass state tests before graduating from high school “even if they have passing grades in their classes,” 65 percent of parents and 70 percent of the general public answered yes. Support was even higher (76 percent of parents and 81 percent of the public) if students were allowed to take the state exam several times, which in fact is the customary policy in most states.
In October 2000, the nonpartisan survey organization Public Agenda released a survey of public school parents, which again demonstrated solid backing for standards and testing. Large majorities of parents in big urban districts say that their local reforms have been carefully and reasonably implemented. Only about 10 percent thought that their children were getting too much homework or taking too many tests. Nearly 80 percent agreed that decisions about promotion should not be based on “just one test.”
So, despite the outpouring of media about a test backlash, it turns out that the public is not opposed to testing and understands the value of testing for supplying information to parents and incentives to students. Parents want to know if their children are making progress. They don’t want everything to ride on a single test, and they do want assurance that their children will get extra help if they need it. In this instance, parents show more common sense than the media who write about education. And, lest we forget, the public schools belong to the public.