WASHINGTON - Amid signs of rising support for public schools, there are indications of new worries about using high-stakes testing to improve schools further, according to a poll released Tuesday.
The annual Phi Delta Kappa poll shows 70 percent of those polled give their local schools a grade of "A" or "B." That is a rise of 4 percentage points from the year before.
Since 1981, the public increasingly has given their public schools better grades, said Lowell Rose of Phi Delta Kappa, an organization of professional educators.
"The decline in public confidence in public schools we hear so much about is basically a myth," he said.
Rose agreed, however, that with voters listing education as their top concern there is widespread belief that schools can do a better job.
To achieve that, nearly every state has chosen the same path: First, set high standards for each academic topic in each grade. Next, make schools - and students - accountable for meeting those standards with tests.
When those tests have consequences, such as retaining a child in grade or denying a diploma to a failing student, they become high-stakes tests.
About 18 states use graduation exams, including Arizona, most of them measuring only basic skills. But about 10 states, including Virginia, New York and Massachusetts, are phasing in more demanding high-stakes testing.
According to the Phi Delta Kappa poll, however, the public is likely to begin resisting the tougher tests:
. Between 1997 and 2000, there was a 10 percentage-point jump, from 20 percent to 30 percent, in those saying schools were using "too much" testing.
. Asked whether a student's academic progress should be measured by tests or classroom work, 68 percent chose the latter.
. When asked if the primary function of tests should be to determine how much a student learned vs. what kind of instruction that student needs, 65 percent chose the latter.
"The results of this poll ought to be another word of warning to elected officials about their efforts to bring about school reform," said Jack Jennings, director of the Center on Education Policy, a group that lobbies on behalf of public schools.
"Student testing needs to be restored to its rightful place in education - as a stethoscope for understanding how to teach students better, not a hammer to shake at students, teachers and schools," said Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association. ************************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org