08/24/2013 01:16 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2013

What You Should Know About the Deceptive AP Report on Standardized Testing

On August 17, 2013, the Associated Press (AP) announced that a survey they conducted in June and July 2013 found that not only do parents really like standardized tests -- they approve of the high-stakes usage of such tests and believe that the number of standardized tests administered is "about right":

Often criticized as too prescriptive and all-consuming, standardized tests have support among parents, who view them as a useful way to measure both students' and schools' performances, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. Most parents also say their own children are given about the right number of standardized tests, according to the AP-NORC poll.

The release of this propaganda is certainly strategic timing given the recent New York debacle of Mayor Bloomberg's aligning Common Core assessments to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and flunking most New York schoolchildren by design.

It is also interesting to note that at the same time the AP was conducting its survey, the Texas legislature finally heeded to parent pressure to reduce the annual number of standardized tests in Texas high schools from 15 to 5.

Nevertheless, according to AP, parents are fine with both the frequency and usage of standardized tests.

The AP report is a carefully crafted lie designed to promote an educational system that is high-stakes, standardized-test dependent at the expense of authentic teaching and learning.

Let us first consider who is purchasing this AP survey: The Joyce Foundation. Here is how the AP report spins Joyce Foundation involvement in their "research":

The survey was sponsored by the Joyce Foundation, which works to promote policies that improve the quality of teachers, including the development of new teacher evaluation systems, enhance early reading reforms and encourage innovation in public schools. [Emphasis added.]

The Joyce Foundation wants to judge teachers using standardized tests. On the tabulated survey results, the wording for Joyce Foundation "sponsorship" is more to the point:

Conducted and funded by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research with major funding from the Joyce Foundation [Emphasis added.]

President Obama belonged to the Joyce Foundation board of directors from 1994 to 2002. Obama made it a requirement that states seeking Race to the Top funding must agree to evaluate teachers using student standardized test scores.

So here we have a "study" that finds parents in favor of what Obama wants, a study that just happens to have "major funding" from a reform organization to which Obama has close ties.

Let's examine what the AP survey actually reveals. The survey is lengthy, so I will abbreviate results in this post. However, the complete survey is here.

This survey was of "1,025 adult parents of children enrolled in grades K-12 during the 2012-2013 school year." For parents of more than one child, responses are based upon the oldest child's school experience.

76% believe that their child's school rates "excellent" (37%) or "good" (40%).

57% believe that the school is doing an "excellent" (18%) or "good" (39%) job preparing students for college- up from 48% "excellent/'good" on the AP survey in 2010.

The highest ranking factor that contributes to the quality of a student's education ("extremely important") was "the amount of parental involvement in the child's education" (65%). Second was "the quality of the teachers" (61%).

For some reason, the researchers used only half of the sample for next set of questions. (The overall sample was divided into two and labeled "A" and "B," with some questions answered using "half sample A" and others, "half sample B.") The questions pertain to "problems facing schools today," including but not limited to "low expectations for student achievement," "inequality of funding," "quality instruction by teachers," "students not spending enough time in school," and "low test scores." The results of this section are flat. The highest category was that 33% of "half sample A" thought that "not enough opportunity for physical activity and sports" was "not too serious" of a problem in school. The highest ranking in the "extremely serious" category" was 20%, for "getting and keeping good teachers" ("half sample A").

From 2010 to 2012, the percentage of parents who believed that the education their child is receiving is "much better" than their own education increased from 31% to 38%.

So far, these results are not panning out for reformers wishing to "innovate disruptively."

Now we come to a loaded question choice. In response to "determining the quality and performance of a school," parents are offered the choice, "information about teachers' ability to improve student outcomes." In reformerspeak, this is the all-too-familiar wording for "grading teachers using students' standardized test scores." Notice, however, that the response choice mentions nothing about use of standardized tests; parents are simply offered the nondescript term, "information." 38% rated this "information" as "extremely helpful." I do not believe that respondents were thinking of value added teacher evaluation, and here's why: The two items mentioning student tests, "average student test scores" and "changes in student test scores over time," were near the bottom of the list of what parents deemed "extremely useful" to determining quality and performance of a school" (both at 25%). Information on their children's standardized tests was not as "extremely important" to parents as was "the school's safety and security record" (37%), "information about teachers' academic and training backgrounds," (33%), and "information on the school's budget and spending" (29%).

The lowest item on the list of "extremely useful" in determining school quality was "student dropout rates" (24%), another area of reformer numeric fixation and manipulation.

How do parents gather information on school quality? Mostly by asking other parents (83%) and visiting the school's website (65%). Overall, 82% of parents rate the quality of their child's teachers as either excellent (42%) or good (40%). When asked to expand upon what makes the teacher "excellent," the highest ranking response was "attentive to student's needs" (35%). "General teacher performance/effectiveness" ranked among the lowest, at only 2%.

All four of the highest ranking responses concerned quality of human interaction (the remaining three were "presentation style" [22%], "good communication" [12%], and "positive attitude and personality" [10%]).

The same four qualities of human interaction responses were the top four reasons that parents also rated some teachers as "poor." Only 6% said the teacher was "poor" due to "general teacher performance/ effectiveness."

Parents want teachers who care for and interact well with their children. This value is reiterated in parents' responses to the following question:

If you could choose your child's teacher, what would be the most important factor for you in choosing the best possible teacher?

Top choice: Passionate about teaching (21%)

Second choice: Caring toward your child (12%)

Third choice: Evidence that the teacher's students are learning (9%).

As for teacher pay, in both 2010 and 2012, the largest category for parent perceptions of teacher pay was that teachers are paid "far too little" (32% in 2010; 38% in 2012).

Now for some AP reporting trickery. Here is an excerpt from the "pro-testing" AP article:

They'd (parents would) like to see student performance on statewide exams used in evaluating teachers...

And now, for the survey questions. The researchers split the sample into two halves in order to offer two versions of a question regarding judgments on teacher salary.

The first question offers three choices: teacher pay based solely on statewide tests; pay based on both statewide tests and administrative classroom observations, and pay based solely on administrative classroom observations. The highest category was the "both" category in both 2010 and 2012 (49% in 2010; 50% in 2012). I am not surprised by this result; it would be helpful to know why parents chose as they did. I suspect that it seems "fair" to incorporate both means in determining pay.

Neither teacher seniority nor education experience were choices in this version of the question, which makes the result easier for reformers to present as parents "favoring" use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

Respondents were also not informed that teachers could possibly be fired based upon the evaluation ratings.

In other words, parents were not apprised of the "high stakes" mentioned in the title of the AP article.

In the second version of the question, parents are given more choices for determining teacher salary; they are also given the opportunity to register varied levels of agreement for use of each. In this version, parents were hesitant to use the "extremely important" category, instead leaning on the second, "very important" category. What parents believed was "very important" in determining teacher salary was "classroom observations by local school officials" (43%); "the type of training or advanced degrees obtained by the teacher" (40%); "years of teaching experience" (38%); "changes in student test scores over time" (34%), and "input from parents" (30%).

As was true of the first version, the second version of the question focuses only on teacher salary and not teacher job security.

No mention of "high stakes."

There is more to the AP release statement than I copied previously. Here is the full statement:

They'd (parents would) like to see student performance on statewide exams used in evaluating teachers, and almost three-quarters said they favored changes that would make it easier for schools to fire poorly performing teachers.

The AP article connects the ideas of "teacher evaluation" and "teacher firing"; however, there is no reason for parents completing this survey to believe that "evaluation" heavily reliant upon "standardized test scores" could lead to the "firing" of teachers by design.

The AP survey question on teacher firing is worded in such a way that most would naturally agree:

Would you favor, oppose, or neither favor nor oppose making it easier for school districts to fire teachers for poor performance?

Hey, your child has a bad teacher. Would you like to make it easy to fire the bad teacher?

My surprise here was that anyone responded, "strongly oppose" (6%, in both 2010 and 2012). Then I realized that some parents in this sample are also teachers, and they likely know the game being played in the name of reform.

The AP article also includes this statement, a clear jump in logic based upon the actual survey questions and results:

The polling results are good news for states looking to implement increased accountability standards and for those who want to hold teachers responsible for students' slipping standing against other countries' scores. [Emphasis added.]

Over one third of parents in this survey believe that their children are receiving a "much better" education than they did. It is the largest response category for the question. The number has increased from 2010 to 2012.

The survey does not mention international testing.

Now comes the time for this Joyce-Foundation-funded survey to make good on its endorsement of teacher evaluation via standardized test scores. Even though the researchers have already asked questions in which "standardized testing" was implied (e.g., via use of the term "statewide tests"), the researchers wait until well into the survey to define the term. Their definition is rather weak:

Standardized tests are used to evaluate students using a consistent test so that each student is scored in the same way.

There is no mention of testing companies, no mention of the usage of such tests, no mention of the time it takes to administer these test, no mention of the cost to the district, and certainly no mention or defining of the term "high stakes testing." Thus, when parents were asked if their child takes too many standardized tests, they relied upon the general definition offered and likely responded according to "tests in general." Many of these parents did not think of state or national tests- and surely not of international tests. I base my judgment on the fact that 46% of parents believed that "the local school district should be responsible for the subject areas covered in these standardized tests."

The parents were hearing "standardized tests" and almost half were thinking these should be "locally controlled."

The question regarding the use of standardized tests to evaluate teachers includes a "normalizing" statement at the outset. This statement is clearly present in order to bias the respondent into believing that using standardized tests is "okay" for any and all of the choices that follow:

All public schools give their students standardized tests from time to time. Do you think standardized tests should or should not be used for the following purposes? [Emphasis added.]

The question biases the response that standardized tests "should be used" for all purposes presented, including "to rank or rate schools" and "to evaluate teacher quality."

There is no mention of using standardized test results to close schools or to fire teachers. This survey obviously skirts the "high stakes" conequences associated with reformer standardized test usage.

As for Common Core: The questions are clearly biased in favor:

Most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts. The objective of the Common Core is to provide consistent, clear standards across all states for students in grades K-12. [Emphasis added.]

What parents would not want "clear, consistent standards" taught in their child's school?

Even though half of the parents have heard "little or nothing at all" of Common Core, the researchers use this opportunity to plant a seed of acceptance for Common Core by offering their biased definition to an uninformed audience.


The offering of a slanted definition of Common Core is the deception behind this AP article statement:

Still, when given a brief description of what the standards do, about half of parents say educational quality will improve once the standards are implemented, 11 percent think it will get worse, and 27 percent say they'll have no effect. [Emphasis added.]

In sum, the AP article does not reflect the declared purpose of the survey as evidenced by the survey questions. The parents completing the AP survey were not instructed in the use of the term "high stakes," including the potential, serious outcomes of high stakes testing. They were also not informed of the high-stakes-testing requirements associated with Common Core.

If one considers the survey results separate from the AP article, one sees parents who believe their children are receiving a better education than they did from excellent-yet-underpaid teachers who care about their students. I dare the Joyce-Foundation-funded AP to print that info.

This post first appeared on Mercedes' blog: