Parental Opposition to School Standards Exaggerated, Group Says

By: - October 5, 2000 12:00 am

Parental backlash against the standards movement in public schools has been overstated, according to a national survey of parents released today by Public Agenda, a nonprofit public policy research organization.

“Based on this research and surveys by other organizations, reports of the death of the standards movement have been wildly exaggerated,” says Deborah Wadsworth, president of bipartisan Public Agenda.

Only 2 percent of parents surveyed expressed a desire to return to the way things were before educational standards were in place, the survey says.

Ten percent or fewer felt their children were under too much pressure academically, had too much homework, weren’t getting appropriate help or attended schools requiring too many standardized tests.

Nearly every state has adopted standards-based reforms that specify what a child should learn before graduating to the next grade. Most states have developed statewide tests to measure what students are learning.

While Public Agenda’s poll numbers appear to dispel the notion that parents overwhelmingly oppose standards, they do indicate parental displeasure with high-stakes testing.

Nearly 80 percent of respondents did not want the results of a single test to determine whether a student is promoted or graduates from high school.

At least 24 states have graduation tests in place and more are considering the policy. At least 13 states have tied grade promotion to tests. ( Massachusetts Leads Revolt Against Graduation Tests,

Public Agenda’s contention that most parents support standards-based reform was questioned by a prominent movement opponent, Monty Neill, executive director of Fair Test. The fact that nearly eight out of 10 Public Agenda respondents want to ditch high-stakes testing demonstrates that a backlash really does exist, Neill observes.

His advocacy group maintains that relying too heavily on standards leads to testing abuses and erodes the quality of education.

Three-quarters of the parents in Public Agenda’s survey, 75 percent, agreed that students pay more attention and study harder if they know they must pass a test to get promoted or graduate.

Seventy-six percent supported the idea of publicizing school-wide scores to hold schools accountable and 55 percent said there is nothing wrong with spending a significant portion of class time preparing students for tests.

The American Federation of Teachers surveyed its members last year and found that 73 percent support the new standards agenda. However, AFT President Sandra Feldman said that tests should be broad and should not be the single factor holding a child back.

Public Agenda surveyed 803 parents of public school children by telephone between Sept. 18 and 26. The poll has a plus/minus margin of error of 3 percent, according to the researchers. Additional sampling was done of at least 200 parents in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and New York that carries a plus/minus margin of error of 7 percent.

The research was underwritten by the Thomas B. Fordham, George Gund, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur, and John M. Olin foundations.

“Our reason for doing this [survey] is really to give a context, and a status report, on what parents are seeing, Public Agenda senior vice president Jean Johnson says. “I think this movement — the idea of raising standards and having tests in place — has received broad support in virtually all parts of the country.”

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