Survey finds many parents know nothing about new Common Core tests

File photo: Many parents say they have not been given adequate information about the Common Core tests that students are taking beginning this spring, according to a new survey.
File photo: Many parents say they have not been given adequate information about the Common Core tests that students are taking beginning this spring, according to a new survey.
Patrick Semansky/AP

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A new survey confirms something you may already have guessed: most parents say they have heard nothing about the standardized tests that millions of California public school students are taking this year.

According to the nonpartisan research group Public Policy Institute of California, 55 percent of public school parents surveyed say they have not heard at all about the new tests that public schools are giving students grade 3 to 8 and grade 11 starting this spring.

Another 36 percent say they have heard a little about the tests and only 8 percent say they have heard a lot about the exams.

"It’s troubling that so many parents are in the dark about important changes that are taking place today in the schools," said Mark Baldassare, the institute's president and CEO who directed the survey.

Of those parents who said they had heard about the tests, more than half are Latino and a third are white, the group said.

The institute surveyed 1,706 California adult residents by phone from April 3 to 13 in English and Spanish. The sampling error is plus or minus 3.7 percent for all adults. 

The latest tests, known as the Smarter Balanced assessments, are given to students online. They measure students' knowledge of English and math based on the Common Core, a new set of learning standards aimed at teaching critical-thinking, problem-solving and collaboration.

There's wide expectation among educators that the new tests will result in significantly lower scores than previous standardized tests. That's because whenever students take new tests, they are not familiar with them and so do less well. Add to that, the Smarter Balanced exams are taken on computers or tablets, which many students needed to get used to. Perhaps most importantly, the tests are based on Common Core standards that many teachers are not fully prepared to teach, California Sate Board of Education President Michael Kirst told KPCC last month.

Despite this, 42 percent of the surveyed parents predict students will score about the same as previous tests and 29 percent expect higher scores. Twenty-three percent predict they scores will be lower.

Los Angeles Unified and other school districts sought and won approval from the state Board of Education to have this year's scores not count in evaluating individual schools. The Academic Performance Index, which uses statewide test results to rank schools and flags those that need improvement, won't be produced for the 2014-15 school year.

However, parents will receive their children's scores in a new student report.

On the question of whether standardized tests are accurate measures of student progress, the institute's survey showed California residents are split. Fifty-one percent of the survey takers said they were very or somewhat confident that the tests are accurate gauges while 46 percent say they are not too confident or not confident at all.

There's fairly wide knowledge of Common Core standards among public school parents — 66 percent said they have at least heard about them. But 42 percent said they received no information about the standards, while about a third said their child's school or district gave them information about the standards. Twenty percent said they have inadequate information.

Baldassare said schools could be doing more through parent-teacher conferences, assemblies, and other means to educate families about Common Core testing.