Done right, polling tells you what people think. Done wrong, it tells you what you want to hear. Case in point: The New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) recently released
a poll of voters showing considerable hostility to standardized testing just weeks before the state is set to administer a new test. Dig in a little deeper and it gets interesting. After the usual right/wrong direction questions, NJEA asks a series of questions that pretty much skew the findings for the rest of the poll. They list 11 separate areas of “concern” around testing, such as “causes stress for students,” and “takes time and money from other educational priorities.” Agreement runs pretty high for most of these concerns, though it’s baffling as to why since
76 percent of the people polled do not have children in public schools. They then ask about the new PARCC tests, one of two new tests created by states and aligned with the Common Core. Again, not surprisingly, three out of four have heard almost nothing about them. Pushing ahead, however, the pollsters briefly explain what the PARCC test is and then ask respondents if people are favorable or unfavorable. This is kind of like describing an exotic meal to someone and then asking them how it tastes. A long list of negatives about testing were asked along with various antidotes, including dropping the “national” and “federal” PARCC standardized testing system. For the record, these are
not national tests and we
don’t have national standards in America. But that didn’t stop them from asking how much they have heard about the “National Common Core standards.” A split sample was also asked about the “Federal Common Core standards.” In both cases, about half of those polled know little or nothing. They should have asked about the Common Core “State” Standards since they were actually created by states. A little bit later in the poll, they ask if New Jersey should withdraw from “the Common Core standards that require an increase in standardized tests.” In reality, adopting the standards does not require an increase in testing. Having thoroughly poisoned the sample, they then offer a few lukewarm arguments in favor of testing and they actually poll pretty well. In fact, 56 percent found the following argument very or somewhat convincing: “Standardized tests are instrument in measuring students’ proficiency, letting educators know which academic areas children are struggling with in order to cater to individual needs.” Most compellingly, about 40 percent polled want high school students to pass the PARCC exam for graduation. Hardly the hostility the rest of the poll would suggest. Finally, it should be noted that the PARCC tests were successfully administered to some 1200 schools in more than 400 districts in New Jersey last spring as part of a nationwide pilot program with more than a million students in 14 states and
most students finished on time and had no trouble taking the online test. West Milford, New Jersey was one of the districts and they
reported few glitches. Polls like this one are not only misleading but they are serving an anti-reform agenda that puts children at risk. Parents have a right to know and teachers have a need to know if their children are on track. You don’t need a poll to tell you that. It’s just common sense.
Peter Cunningham is the founder of Education Post and serves on its board. He served as Assistant Secretary for communications and outreach in the U.S. Department of Education during the Obama administration’s first term. Prior to that he worked with Arne Duncan when he was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools. Peter is affiliated with