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Gallup: Many Americans oppose linking teacher evaluations to kids' test performance

WASHINGTON — Many Americans, especially public-school parents, give low marks to rating a teacher based partly on how students perform on standardized tests, according to a survey.

The Gallup Poll released Sunday found 55 per cent opposed linking teacher evaluations to their students' test scores. Among those with children in public schools opposition was stronger, at 63 per cent.

Standardized tests are necessary, but there's an overreliance on them, said Joshua Starr, CEO of Phi Delta Kappa International, an association for educators, and a former schools superintendent. PDK, which supports teachers and educational research, paid for the poll conducted by Gallup.

"Parents see the work their kids bring home every night," Starr said in an interview. "They go to teacher conferences, and they're more likely to judge the school and the quality of the teacher based on that, than solely using test scores."

As many schools prepare for a return to the classroom in the coming weeks, more than 40 states are moving forward with plans to evaluate teachers and principals in part on how well their students perform on standardized tests. It's something the Education Department has supported and encouraged through its Race to the Top grants to schools and other programs. While the department says other factors should be considered, such as student work and parent feedback, teachers, unions and others worry there's too much emphasis on test scores.

Standardized tests in general were not popular with many in the survey, which included a telephone poll of 1,000 American adults supplemented with an online survey of nearly 3,500 more. The online survey included people initially selected at random, but only those with access to the Internet.

Nearly two-thirds of those in the online survey said too much emphasis is placed on standardized testing in public schools. Nineteen per cent said they were comfortable with the tests, 7 per cent said there was too little emphasis and 10 per cent didn't know.

Of public-school parents questioned in the online poll, nearly half — 47 per cent — said parents should be allowed to excuse their children from taking one or more standardized tests, 40 per cent disagreed and 13 per cent didn't know. More whites supported the idea of opting out of tests. Some 44 per cent of whites agreed, compared to 35 per cent of Hispanics and only 28 per cent of African-Americans. A majority of blacks, 57 per cent, said parents should not excuse their children from the tests.

In recent years, there's been a small but growing number of parents deciding to keep their kids home or otherwise out of the classroom during state standardized tests.

New York is believed to have the largest rate of opt-outs so far. About 20 per cent of the state's third- through eighth-graders refused to take the tests this spring, up from 5 per cent a year earlier. Other states have reported resistance to the tests, including Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

People in the online poll were mostly split on the intensely debated Common Core education standards. They have been adopted in much of the country and spell out what English and math standards students should master at each grade level. Fifty-four per cent of public school parents oppose teachers in their communities using the Common Core standards to guide what they teach, while 25 per centfavoured them.

More blacks favoured Common Core — 41 per cent, compared to 29 per cent of Hispanics and only 21 per cent of whites.

The standards were drafted by the states with the support of the Obama administration, but have become a rallying point for conservatives who want a smaller federal role in education. In Congress, the House and Senate passed separate bills last month to update the No Child Left Behind education law. The bills, among other things, would prevent the Education Department from mandating or giving states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, such as Common Core.

The online survey found resounding agreement on vaccinations. Eighty-four per cent said all children should be vaccinated before they attend a public school; 9 per cent disagreed.

The PDK/Gallup poll was conducted in May. The margin of sampling error in the telephone poll is plus or minus 4.7 percentage points, and plus or minus 3 percentage points for the online poll.

Jennifer C. Kerr, The Associated Press

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