New USC Poll: Public Approval for Testing and Evaluations

Parent ViewS TESTINGNearly two-thirds of California voters said students should be tested in every grade to ensure that they are progressing, a new PACE/USC Rossier Poll shows. The strong majority contradicts calls in Sacramento to reduce standardized testing. The poll found that only 22 percent of voters said California should cut back on testing.

“Most of the political experts say that parents think their children are tested too frequently, but our poll shows just the opposite,” poll director Dan Schnur said in a press release. “Large majorities of California parents, and even larger majorities of state voters, want to see students tested regularly and in a wide range of subjects.”

The poll also had important messages for teachers as voters said student performance on standardized tests should play a sizable role in evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness.

More than 80 percent of respondents believe at least some component of teacher evaluation should be based on student standardized test scores.

And when asked what would have the most positive impact on public schools, the top answer was “removing bad teachers from the classroom” (43 percent), followed by “more involvement from parents” (33 percent), and “more money for school districts and schools” (25 percent).

“In California, state law and local rules make it challenging for districts to reward their best teachers and remove their worst teachers,” said Dominic Brewer, a professor of urban policy the USC Rossier School. “Voters, however, clearly think both strategies would help improve schools. “

“There’s a basic ‘pro-teacher’ sentiment, that teachers should largely be in the driver’s seat and should get the tools, money and extra training they need,” Brewer said. “But there is a tough love message from voters: they value and trust teachers and want them to have more resources, but they also want real accountability for student outcomes.”

While teacher unions like UTLA have resisted efforts to tie teacher evaluation to classroom performance, 43 percent of voters said teachers should be judged equally on their students’ standardized test results, assessments of their classroom performance and evaluations by peers. Three in 10 said evaluations should include some student test results but should be weighted mostly toward classroom assessments and peer evaluations.

Only 10 percent of Californians said student performance on standardized tests should not be used to evaluate teachers, and 8 percent said teachers should be evaluated mostly on test results, with some assessment of their classroom performance and peer evaluations.

Californians are strongly supportive of teachers and want to give them additional tools to succeed but also want teachers held to higher standards.

More than half, 52 percent, of voters agreed that paying teachers more for exceeding performance standards would improve the quality of the state’s public schools, as opposed to 21 percent who said it would make things worse.

A plurality of voters, 42 percent, said they would choose to provide additional support and training to struggling teachers over making it easier to fire teachers who “repeatedly fail to perform at acceptable levels” (29 percent).

But most voters (48 percent) said teachers are largely to blame if a school fails, followed by parents (28 percent) and local school boards (25 percent).

Voters overwhelmingly agreed that power and responsibility for school performance should rest in the hands of local school boards and teachers, not at the state level.

Nearly half of voters, 49 percent, said the main responsibility for ensuring student success should rest with local educators; 28 percent said local school districts; and 23 percent said the state legislature.

But 63 percent of voters said they were “not aware” of Gov. Jerry Brown’s new Local Control Funding Formula that gives school districts more control over how they spend money and allocates more money to needy districts.

Most voters also didn’t know much about California’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards, as 71 percent of voters said they knew little or nothing about it.

Among the poll’s other findings:

  • When asked about testing high school students, 55 percent of voters said California should test students in all subjects, as opposed to 34 percent who said the state should test students in math and English but let teachers evaluate their students in other subjects.
  • When asked who should be most responsible for deciding whether a school is succeeding or failing, 40 percent of voters said local school boards should decide, 20 percent said parents, and 14 percent said the state government. Only 4 percent thought that the federal government should have this responsibility.
  • While four times as many more voters believe Proposition 30 – a temporary sales tax and income tax increase to fund education – has helped public schools (20 percent) than hurt public schools (5 percent), more than half of voters (54 percent) said the measure has had no effect on public schools and 22 percent said they didn’t know if it has had an impact.
  • There are at least some signs that voters are becoming slightly more optimistic about public education. When asked about the state’s public schools, 13 percent of voters said they were “getting better,” compared with 7 percent who agreed in last year’s PACE/USC Rossier Poll. Forty-nine percent said state schools had “gotten worse,” as compared to 57 percent in 2012.

The PACE/USC Rossier Poll was conducted Aug. 27 to 30, 2013 by polling firms MFour Research and Tulchin Research and surveyed 1,001 registered California voters. The poll was conducted online and allowed respondents to complete the survey on a desktop or laptop computer, tablet or smartphone. The poll was conducted in English and Spanish. The margin of error for the overall sample was +/- 3.5 percentage points.

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