Public Supports Testing, Opposes Opt-Out, Opposes Federal Intervention

Paul E. Peterson and Martin R. West
Year of publication: 
July 28, 2015

Testing and accountability have become a focal point of the congressional debate over the new federal education bill designed to replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB), originally scheduled to expire in 2007. The Senate and the House have each passed a bill revising the law, but disagreement persists on a key testing provision. The Senate bill, passed by a bipartisan supermajority of 81-17, continues the current requirement that states test students each year in grades 3 through 8 and again in high school, but the House bill, passed along strict party lines, allows parents to “opt out” of state tests, despite the fact that the federal government does not require that the tests be used to evaluate the performance of individual students. The difference is critical because one cannot assess school performance accurately unless nearly all (or a representative sample of) students participate in the testing process.

Even if the two houses of Congress reach agreement, another issue complicates the enactment of a new education law. The Obama Administration, backed by civil rights groups, has threatened to veto the legislation unless it gives the federal government a say in defining what constitutes a failing school and in proposing remedies, something not provided for in the current bills.

Given the timeliness of the testing controversy, we are releasing now (prior to the release of our full results in August) relevant information on public opinion obtained as part of the ninth annual Education Next survey administered in May and June, 2015. In that survey we asked nationally representative samples of 700 teachers and 3,300 adult members of the general public the following question: Do you support or oppose the federal government continuing to require that all students be tested in math and reading each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school?