In Anti-Testing Push, Unions Turn to Polls, Ads
At least two teachers' unions are trying to get the number of tests students must take in their states reduced, and they're relying in part on ad buys and commissioned polls that, they say, reflect widespread concern among parents and the public about the exams.
The timing isn't coincidental, as both states are gearing up for their first round of student testing under new exams that reflect the Common Core State Standards and are widely considered to be more difficult than previous tests.
The New Jersey Education Association is supporting a bill in the legislature that would prevent tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, from being used for any student-placement or proficiency determinations, or for teacher evaluation, until 2017-2018. The union has spent a pretty penny on ads opposing the tests, and its ultimate goal is to create a "testing bill of rights" (see the last slide in this presentation) that would require only samples of students to be tested in certain grade spans, rather than annual testing of students in grades 3-8. It would also require the costs of the tests to be disclosed, allow parents to opt their students out of having to take them, and require for-profit testing companies to disclose their campaign contributions.
All of those measures are things that the union tested in a recent poll of 800 New Jersey voters.
In the poll, conducted by the Mellman Group, about 54 percent of respondents said the state puts too much emphasis on testing, although curiously, 55 percent also said that they knew nothing about the PARCC tests. The poll, which has error margin of +/- 3.5 percentage points, also spends a lot of time describing and asking voters about potentially negative aspects of testing—its cost and time, for instance—which has some critics alleging that it is dangerously close to a push poll.
The Connecticut Education Association is taking a similar tack. On Feb. 23, it issued a legislative proposal to get rid of the annual standardized tests created by the Smarter Balanced consortium, and replace them with "progress tests," which would presumably be administered by individual teachers. It has spent some $250,000 on a anti-testing campaign, according to the Hartford Courant. And like the NJEA, it's backing up its push with its own poll.
That poll, from Lake Research Partners, is less detailed than the New Jersey one, but it also focuses on negative aspects of testing, at one point asking whether "schools are more interested in improving standardized test scores than improving overall student learning." More than 70 percent of respondents said that they trusted classroom-based measures of progress more than standardized tests to evaluate student learning and success. The poll included 500 likely voters. (An error rate isn't specified.)
It's worth noting that both unions go even further in their proposals than their parent union, the National Education Association, which continues to supports the concept of testing all students in certain grade spans.
Behind all of this action, of course, lingers the specter of the renewal of the No Child Left Behind Act (the current iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act). NCLB requires states to administer the annual exams in order to tap their share of federal funds for disadvantaged students, so neither the NJEA's nor the CEA's proposals square with the law as currently written. But so far, it's not at all clear that a rewritten law would scale back tests. Grade-span testing in line with what the NEA has proposed is one of the options floated in the Senate's draft bill, as Politics K-12's Alyson Klein has reported. But other groups are pushing to maintain the annual-testing schedule, and a final rewrite of the law may yet preserve that feature.