skip to main content
Most U.S. Students Don't Mind Taking Educational Assessments

Most U.S. Students Don't Mind Taking Educational Assessments

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Two-thirds of students say they spend the right amount of time taking tests
  • U.S. superintendents hopeful about new federal education law
  • Teachers feel less than fully prepared using test results to improve instruction

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Debate over the amount of time students spend on standardized assessments has dominated education policy since the No Child Left Behind law defined high-stakes student testing as the core means of measuring school and district performance. But students are relatively positive about test taking. Three-quarters of the nation's students in grades five through 12 believe that they spend the right amount of time (66%) or too little time (9%) taking tests or assessments in class. Just 23% say they spend too much time.

Evaluation of Time Students Spend Taking Tests and Assessments in Class
Superintendents% Principals% Teachers% Parents% Students%
Too much 79 71 83 48 23
Right amount 18 28 15 44 66
Too little 2 2 1 8 9
Jan.-Feb. 2016
NWEA/Gallup Make Assessment WORK for All Students Survey

Parents of students in this age range are a bit more concerned, with 48% saying students spend too much time taking tests. By contrast, the vast majority of principals (71%), superintendents (79%) and teachers (83%) believe testing consumes too much of students' time.

These findings are based on research conducted by Gallup in January and February for the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), a not-for-profit educational services organization. The views of students, parents and teachers are based on nationally representative telephone interviews, while the views of superintendents and principals were conducted via Web based on samples drawn from a national list of school administrators.

The study comes at a pivotal time in education, following congressional passage last year of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which President Barack Obama signed into law in December. The law, which will take effect in the 2017-2018 school year, will replace No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in directing federal education policy.

Barely half of U.S. school superintendents (55%) and even fewer principals (41%) say they are familiar with ESSA. Nevertheless, 53% of all superintendents predict that ESSA will have a positive effect on education in their schools. Only 32% of all principals think the effect will be positive, with most of the remainder expecting it to be neutral.

Perception of the Impact ESSA Will Have on Own District/School
Based on U.S. K-12 school administrators
Superintendents% Principals%
Positive 53 32
Neutral 43 62
Negative 4 6
Feb. 1-15, 2016
NWEA/Gallup Make Assessment WORK for All Students Survey

Teachers Need More Help Making Use of Assessments

ESSA will allow states to assess district performance using multiple measures rather than requiring them to rely only on grade-level proficiency statistics. Given this flexibility, it is vital that teachers feel equipped to make the most of various assessments.

The study finds that teachers feel far better prepared to administer assessment tests than to communicate the results to students or parents -- or more importantly, to interpret the results and modify their teaching accordingly. While the majority feel at least somewhat prepared to do all of these, the percentage who feel "very prepared" is just 37% for interpreting the results, 38% for communicating with parents and 44% for communicating with students. Those figures contrast with the 56% who feel very prepared to administer assessments.

Degree to Which Teachers Feel Prepared to Do Various Assessment Tasks
Based on U.S. K-12 Teachers
Very prepared% Prepared%
Administer assessments 56 30
Communicate assessment results to students 44 35
Modify your teaching approach based on assessment results 42 32
Use results to collaborate with peers and administrators 41 33
Communicate assessment results to parents 38 37
Interpret assessment results 37 34
Develop assessments 33 36
Jan. 4-28, 2016
NWEA/Gallup Make Assessment WORK for All Students Survey

Further, fewer than half of teachers report having received instruction during their formal teacher-training programs on how to communicate assessment results to either students (43%) or parents (38%).

At the same time, the study points to a possible solution in the use of data coaches -- that is, education experts who provide on-site training and support in interpreting assessment data and using the information to differentiate instruction. While only 31% of principals report that a data coach is available in their school, most of these principals are highly positive about the impact data coaches have had. Eighty-six percent say data coaches are helpful, including 51% calling them "very helpful." Additionally, 82% say the coaching has resulted in improved teacher performance, and 71% say student learning has improved.

Parents Could Use More Information About Testing

The study suggests that administrators and teachers are operating with good lines of communication about assessment results, as 88% of principals say they meet often with teachers on this subject, and 64% say they meet often with district administrators. However, communication drops off precipitously with parents, as only 33% of principals say they meet often with parents to talk about assessment results. Further, just 38% of parents say their child's teacher often discusses their child's assessment results with them, while 39% say this happens rarely, and 22% say it never does.

These findings highlight the limited opportunities parents have to engage with their child's educators on this critical topic. It also ties in with findings detailed in the full report that suggest parents lack a clear understanding of the purpose of various assessment types.

Bottom Line

K-12 administrators are just becoming familiar with ESSA, but so far the reaction is neutral to positive. As states begin to implement new assessment regimes to gauge school and district performance under the new law, it is clear that more must be done to help teachers make the most of assessment data. This could involve more training for teachers to interpret assessment data and apply the findings to classroom instruction, more time for teachers to meet in groups and collaborate on strategies, and broader use of data coaches to get schools up to speed quickly.

School districts must also find ways to help families better understand the different assessments being administered. Students already seem on board with assessment, possibly because they welcome the feedback on their performance. Helping more parents appreciate the integral role that assessment plays in teaching could make them even more engaged and active in their children's education and make them more informed citizens when it comes to education policy.

Read the full report.

Survey Methods

This study includes survey data from five distinct populations: teachers, principals, superintendents, parents and students. Surveys of students, parents and teachers were conducted by telephone in English with nationally representative samples of eligible participants drawn from the Gallup Panel. Student telephone interviews were conducted Feb. 10-29, 2016, with a sample of 1,005 students in grades five to 12. Parent telephone interviews were conducted Feb. 10-29, 2016, with a sample of 1,011 parents with at least one child in grades five to 12. Teacher interviews were conducted Jan. 4-28, 2016, with a sample of 1,004 U.S. adults aged 18 and older who are currently employed as K-12 teachers. Teachers who teach only art, only foreign language, only music or band, or only physical education or health were not included in this study because those subjects include fewer assessments.

Surveys of principals and superintendents were completed in English via Web Feb. 1-15, 2016, using sample provided by established education sample providers. The sample sources are comprehensive but not representative of all principals and superintendents currently in the U.S. Superintendent and principal samples are weighted to correct for nonresponse. The data are also weighted to match national demographics of urbanicity, size of enrollment and census region. Demographic weighting targets are based on information from the sample list. The sample of principals at the elementary, middle and high school levels was 597, while the sample of school district superintendents was 632.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion surveys. Differences between telephone respondents and Internet respondents are not perfectly comparable because of the lack of representativeness of Internet samples and potential differences introduced by conducting interviews via phone with a live interviewer versus via Internet.

Learn more about how the Gallup Panel works.

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030