Poll: Americans oppose linking teacher evaluations with student performance

By Jennifer C. Kerr, Associated Press
August 25th, 2015

Latest Gallup Poll reveals that many public school parents are not in favor of using student performance in teacher evaluations

teacher-evaluationsMany Americans, especially public-school parents, give low marks to rating a teacher based partly on how students perform on standardized tests, according to a survey.

The Gallup Poll released Sunday found 55 percent opposed linking teacher evaluations to their students’ test scores. Among those with children in public schools opposition was stronger, at 63 percent.

Standardized tests are necessary, but there’s an overreliance on them, said Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, an association for educators, and a former schools superintendent. PDK, which supports teachers and educational research, paid for the poll conducted by Gallup.

“Parents see the work their kids bring home every night,” Starr said in an interview. “They go to teacher conferences, and they’re more likely to judge the school and the quality of the teacher based on that, than solely using test scores.”

As many schools prepare for a return to the classroom in the coming weeks, more than 40 states are moving forward with plans to evaluate teachers and principals in part on how well their students perform on standardized tests. It’s something the Education Department has supported and encouraged through its Race to the Top grants to schools and other programs. While the department says other factors should be considered, such as student work and parent feedback, teachers, unions and others worry there’s too much emphasis on test scores.

Standardized tests in general were not popular with many in the survey, which included a telephone poll of 1,000 American adults supplemented with an online survey of nearly 3,500 more. The online survey included people initially selected at random, but only those with access to the internet.

Nearly two-thirds of those in the online survey said too much emphasis is placed on standardized testing in public schools. Nineteen percent said they were comfortable with the tests, 7 percent said there was too little emphasis and 10 percent didn’t know.

Of public-school parents questioned in the online poll, nearly half – 47 percent – said parents should be allowed to excuse their children from taking one or more standardized tests, 40 percent disagreed and 13 percent didn’t know. More whites supported the idea of opting out of tests. Some 44 percent of whites agreed, compared to 35 percent of Hispanics and only 28 percent of African-Americans. A majority of blacks, 57 percent, said parents should not excuse their children from the tests.

In recent years, there’s been a small but growing number of parents deciding to keep their kids home or otherwise out of the classroom during state standardized tests.

New York is believed to have the largest rate of opt-outs so far. About 20 percent of the state’s third- through eighth-graders refused to take the tests this spring, up from 5 percent a year earlier. Other states have reported resistance to the tests, including Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

People in the online poll were mostly split on the intensely debated Common Core education standards. They have been adopted in much of the country and spell out what English and math standards students should master at each grade level. Fifty-four percent of public school parents oppose teachers in their communities using the Common Core standards to guide what they teach, while 25 percent favored them.

More blacks favored Common Core – 41 percent, compared to 29 percent of Hispanics and only 21 percent of whites.

The standards were drafted by the states with the support of the Obama administration, but have become a rallying point for conservatives who want a smaller federal role in education. In Congress, the House and Senate passed separate bills last month to update the No Child Left Behind education law. The bills, among other things, would prevent the Education Department from mandating or giving states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, such as Common Core.

The online survey found resounding agreement on vaccinations. Eighty-four percent said all children should be vaccinated before they attend a public school; 9 percent disagreed.

The PDK/Gallup poll was conducted in May. The margin of sampling error in the telephone poll is plus or minus 4.7 percentage points, and plus or minus 3 percentage points for the online poll.

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