Just after the bell that summons her two children to class at
Dixie Canyon Elementary School, parent Shelly Eastman is holding
forth about the school district's standardized tests.
"There are things I don't like, such as branding kids too early,"
she says. "But I'm seeing the bigger picture of how necessary they
are in ... getting different schools on the same page and letting
parents and schools know where their students stand."
The comments reflect what national education experts say is a
more accurate - and less negative - appraisal of American attitudes
toward standardized testing.
As the practice has spread to 48 states during the past six
years, much has been made of a backlash - ranging from angry
demonstrations to some parents forbidding their children from
taking the tests. But a new national study, along with successful
test results last week from California - home to 1 in 10 of the
nation's pupils - suggest Americans' perceptions of the tests may
not be as uncharitable as previously thought.
"Coming together at once, the California results and this new
study show that orchestrated efforts to whip up public sentiment
against assessment have been overstated," says Amy Wilkins, policy
analyst for Education Trust, a Washington think tank. "What both
are showing is that we need to refine our debate beyond just having
standards themselves to the fair implementation and interpretation
of such tests."
In California, the test scores are a hopeful sign after years of
decline. The past 25 years have seen the Golden State slide from the
top of many education rankings to below 40th overall.
According to a state report, 71 percent of public schools lifted
their scores significantly - enough for schools to qualify for
millions of dollars of incentives that were set aside to spur such
achievement. The scores of poor, black, and Latino students
improved more than those of whites and Asian-Americans. Experts
attribute the improvement to a host of reforms including smaller
class sizes, higher academic standards, and more money at teachers'
"These results show that higher expectations work," says Gov.
Gray Davis, who campaigned heavily on a platform of education
reform. "After two years, our schools are exceeding even my most
The same day California released its statistics, a major study
suggested that the parental backlash against standards testing has
been vastly overstated. In fact, only 2 percent of parents surveyed
expressed a desire for the nation to return to the way things were
before educational standards were in place.
"Reports of the death of the standards movement have been wildly
exaggerated," says Deborah Wadsworth, president of Public Agenda,
the Washington-based public-policy research organization that
completed the study. …