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Californians split on whether testing has been a boon or bust for education

Voters give state’s schools average grades, but don’t seek reform at expense of traditional education

As Congress debates the role of standardized testing in a reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, a new poll shows Californians are split over whether they believe testing has harmed or improved education in California

Forty-seven percent of voters agreed with the statement that standardized testing hurts education in California by pressuring teachers to teach to the test and fails to account for differences in cultural and economic backgrounds and learning styles, according to results from the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. In contrast, 46 percent said that standardized testing improves education by providing teachers with information, allowing parents to see their children’s progress, and holding schools accountable for student progress, the poll showed.

Latino voters were more supportive of standardized testing, with 55 percent saying they believed standardized testing had improved education, as opposed to 37 percent who said testing hurts education. Among white voters, 53 percent of voters said testing hurts education and 40 percent said it improves education.

“For Latino and Latina parents, the stakes are higher. When families achieve a certain level of financial success, they have the luxury of worrying about their children’s stress levels. For families that haven’t yet made it, they see the stress that comes with testing as an appropriate tradeoff as a measure of academic progress,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC.

When asked whether testing students in 3rd through 11th grades annually was the right amount, 40 percent of California voters said it was “about right,” 37 percent said it was “too much” and 15 percent said it was “not enough.”

Forty-eight percent of Latino voters said the amount of testing was “about right,” 23 percent said it was too much and 20 percent said it was not enough. Among white voters, 44 percent said annual testing was too much, 36 percent said about right and 12 percent not enough.

Voters give schools middling grades, want a “do it all approach”

California voters continue to be troubled by the state’s public schools but seek solutions that include both reform measures and boosting funding for traditional public school campuses, the poll showed.

Forty-eight percent of voters said public schools are in bad shape, as opposed to 39 percent who said the state’s schools are in good shape, according to the poll. Latino and younger voters were more positive. Among Latinos, 45 percent said schools are in good shape and 42 percent said they are in bad shape. Among voters aged 18-49, 48 percent thought schools were in bad shape as compared to 42 percent who said they are in good shape. Voters aged 50 and older were split 49-38.

“You see attitudes on education divided between old California and new California, with white voters and older voters saying schools are worsening, while younger voters and minorities are more optimistic about the direction schools are headed,” said David Kanevsky, vice president of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, part of the bipartisan team with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research that conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

When asked to give California schools letter grades, 35 percent of voters gave public schools a “C.” Thirty percent of voters gave public schools a grade of “A” or “B,” and 27 percent of voters gave schools a “D” or “F.”

Yet when asked about schools in their own neighborhood, voters were more positive. Forty-nine percent of voters gave public schools in their own neighborhood high marks with a grade of “A” or “B.” Twenty-three percent gave their neighborhood public school a “C,” and 13 percent gave local public schools a “D” or “F” grade.

Overall, a majority of voters had positive impressions of charter schools, saying they would consider enrolling their child in a charter school, with 61 percent of parents saying charter schools were an option, and 32 percent saying they would not consider charter schools for their child. That’s up nine percentage points since the question was asked as part of the 2011 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, when 52 percent of parents said they considered charter schools an option for their child.

But voters thought funds should be directed at traditional public schools rather than creating new charter campuses, with 59 percent favoring investments in traditional public schools over increasing the number of charter schools. Twenty-nine percent supported opening more charter schools instead of spending additional funds on public schools.

Forty-eight percent of voters said charter schools, which are independently run public schools, provide a higher-quality public education than traditional public schools, and 25 percent said charter schools do not provide a better education than traditional public schools.

“Californians are very supportive of charter schools, but they also strongly value the role of traditional public schools as well,” said Schnur. “They see the benefits for their own children of having the option of attending a charter school, but they want to make sure that traditional public schools have the funding they need to succeed.”

“Californians see little sense of improvement, and the effect is a call for a ‘do it all’ approach for improving public schools,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “Voters are saying they’re open to these reforms, but at the end of the day, we also need to make an investment in our traditional public schools.”

The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, was conducted March 28-April 7 and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state. The full sample of 1,504 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.

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Californians split on whether testing has been a boon or bust for education

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