Policy & Research

Teachers Abhor State Tests While Supporting State Standards

American teachers like math and English language arts standards, but they don't like state tests. That's the bottom line in a survey done by the RAND Corp. The research project found that while nearly all the teachers supported the use of state standards for instruction, just over a third supported use of the current tests to measure mastery of those standards.

The results were drawn from a February 2016 survey of the American Teacher Panel, a randomly selected, nationally representative group of K-12 public school teachers in all subjects, including special education and English language learners. Teachers who agree to participate in the panel receive two to four web-based surveys each year with questions about education policy, teaching, and learning. The analysis for "U.S. Teachers' Support of Their State Standards and Assessments" was drawn from 1,321 respondents.

Eighty-eight percent of math teachers and 89 percent of ELA teachers said they supported the use of state standards in their respective subjects. However, only 30 percent of math teachers and 31 percent of ELA instructors said the same about the current statewide tests in use.

Regardless of how teachers felt about their standards, more than half agreed that their mathematics and ELA state standards prepared students for college and the workforce and supported alignment from grade to grade. However, majorities also agreed that their standards excluded important concepts and weren't appropriate for students with special learning needs.

One telling difference between those who supported the standards and those who didn't related to how they felt about the number of topics in the standards. Among those supporting the standards, nearly 60 percent agreed the standards provided a manageable number of topics; just a quarter of those who didn't support the standards said the same. "This finding suggests that the number of topics within the standards could be one issue driving support (or lack of support) for standards," the report noted.

Other findings:

  • Those in schools serving more low-income students were more likely to support their standards for both mathematics and ELA.
  • Elementary teachers were considerably less likely than secondary teachers to support use of ELA standards in instruction.
  • Teachers who thought their state had adopted Common Core (whether those states had or not) were less supportive of using statewide assessments to measure mastery of standards.
  • Those who didn't support their state tests were two to three times as likely as supporters to be concerned about test difficulty and the accuracy of test scores for students with special learning needs.

The report's authors offered a few recommendations to state education leaders based on the results:

  • States need to work harder to make sure testing is more closely aligned with their standards. And they need to do a better job of communicating those links between standards and assessments "as clearly as possible to teachers, schools and families."
  • States and districts should also consider addressing the challenge of test difficulty that teachers have articulated, particularly regarding students with special needs.
  • Finally, states should also ponder how to develop instructional materials that most closely support teachers' work in addressing standards without also addressing topics outside of the standards.

The research project was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report is openly available on the RAND website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.