Testing. Kind of Like Vegetables.

Everyone hates standardized testing. That’s the conventional wisdom. Education reporters regularly feature people who oppose tests, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a story about anyone who likes them. But results from two surveys released in the last week suggest that opinions about standardized testing are more nuanced (and less negative) than we’re usually led to believe.

As part of our Perspectives of Irreplaceable Teachers survey, we asked 117 outstanding teachers from all over the country whether they think standardized testing is doing more good than harm, on balance, or vice versa. They were split 50/50, and many saw both positives and negatives in their experiences with tests. This response, from a teacher who said tests were mostly good, was fairly typical:

“I think testing is overdone and burns the kids out, but overall, it gives us so much data that can help us determine what the students know and what needs to be retaught.”

Likewise, from a teacher who said the tests were mostly harmful:

“I feel that some standardized testing is okay in moderation but the pendulum has swung to the extreme. We are now in a situation where testing is taking over valuable teaching time and the love of learning is being lost to more and more test prep.”

A new Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll suggests many parents hold similarly moderate views. Three-quarters of the parents surveyed said that standardized tests measure their child’s academic performance “very well” or “somewhat well,” and 61 percent said that the number of standardized tests at their child’s school is “about right.” Some 93 percent said standardized tests should be used to identify areas where students need extra help, 60 percent said test scores should be part of teacher evaluations and 65 percent said teachers’ pay should be based at least partly on students’ test scores.

These results suggest a consensus about standardized testing that’s different from what we often hear: Tests are actually pretty useful! They’re not much fun, but they can be good for us. Teachers and parents have real concerns about tests, to be sure, but relatively few view these concerns as a reason to turn away from testing entirely.

Just as importantly, these two surveys suggest a consensus on the underlying issue: that student academic success tells us something important about a teacher’s effectiveness.

Nearly all the teachers we surveyed said that they felt successful when they saw evidence of student learning—whether that means their students succeed in future classes of the same subject, do well on teacher-created tests and quizzes, or, yes, do well on standardized tests. Similarly, 91 percent of parents surveyed in the AP/NORC poll said that it was “extremely important” or “very important” that their child’s teachers demonstrated evidence that their students are learning.

It’s not that other things don’t matter, too. In judging their own success, the teachers we surveyed also value things like feedback from their colleagues, and even hearing that students enjoy being in their class. Nearly all parents in the AP/NORC poll want teachers who are passionate about teaching and caring toward children, and some (although less than half) say it’s extremely or very important that teachers have a lot of teaching experience and advanced degrees.

But when it comes to the basic question that has stirred so much controversy in recent years—whether we should expect teachers to help their students make measurable academic progress—parents and the nation’s best teachers seem to be on the same page.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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