Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

For Release — Wednesday, September 13, 2000


ALBANY—New Yorkers overwhelmingly support raising academic standards and using tests as a way to evaluate the performance of students, teachers, and schools, according to a new poll commissioned by The Public Policy Institute of New York State, the research affiliate of The Business Council.

Support for the standards, and for state tests based on them, was strong among all categories of respondents.

The poll also showed that New Yorkers firmly believe that traditional outcomes-such as grades, test results, dropout rates, graduation rates, and college attendance rates-are good ways to evaluate not only students but also schools and teachers.

The poll of New Yorkers was part of a nationwide poll sponsored by The Business Roundtable, a national association of chief executive officers of leading corporations. For the national poll, 1012 adults 18 years old or older were polled. The Public Policy Institute commissioned a poll of an additional sample of New Yorkers. All told, for the New York poll, 356 adults 18 years old or older were questioned. The margin of error for the poll of New Yorkers is plus or minus 5.2 percentage points.

"New Yorkers want their kids to learn the three R's, to learn a lot, and then to prove it by passing tough tests," said Daniel B. Walsh, president and CEO of The Business Council. "This poll shows that New Yorkers strongly support not only our tough new standards, but also the increased academic rigor and accountability that come with them."

Here are some key findings of the poll.

New Yorkers strongly approve of the trend towards tougher standards. More than 80 percent of respondents said this trend was very much in the right direction (54 percent) or somewhat in the right direction (31 percent).

New Yorkers believe schools' improvement is best measured with traditional metrics such as grades, test results, and long-term student outcomes. Test scores, SAT scores, and grades were factors volunteered by most of the respondents (23 percent); another 19 percent said the main indicator of school improvement would be such factors as a lower dropout rate, a higher graduation rate, and the rate of college attendance.

New Yorkers strongly approve requiring students to pass statewide tests to graduate from high school, even if those students have passing grades in their classes. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they approve such a requirement; 28 percent disagreed. However, among those who disagreed, 38 percent said they would support such tests if they knew students could take the tests several times.

New Yorkers also strongly approve requiring fourth-grade students to pass statewide tests in reading and math before being promoted to fifth grade, even if they have passing grades in their classes. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they approve this requirement; 25 percent of respondents did not support it. Of those who opposed it, 60 percent of respondents said they would support it if children who initially did not pass the tests were given summer-school instruction and then an opportunity to take the tests again at the end of the summer.

New Yorkers place even more emphasis on grades and test scores as students get older. Asked about criteria for determining if a student is ready for promotion, respondents rated grades as excellent (25 percent) or good (52 percent) for fourth graders. They saw comparable value in a teacher's assessment of the student's readiness to progress (28 percent excellent, 44 percent good). And respondents placed slightly less emphasis on the value of statewide test results (18 percent excellent, 46 percent good).

Asked how to decide if students should receive high-school diplomas, New Yorkers endorsed traditional metrics even more strongly. Nearly 85 percent of respondents rated students' grades as an excellent (32 percent) or good (52 percent) way to decide if students are ready for a diploma. More than 70 percent said students' results on statewide tests were an excellent (24 percent) or good (47 percent) way to make that decision. Respondents placed significantly less emphasis on teachers' recommendations (20 percent excellent, 46 percent good) as a way to determine if students should receive diplomas.

New Yorkers believe teachers should also be evaluated by test results—theirs and their students'. Nearly 90 percent of respondents said that teachers' knowledge of their subject matter, as demonstrated by their scores on proficiency tests, is an excellent (47 percent) or good (40 percent) way to evaluate teachers. More than 70 percent said evaluating teachers on their students' results on statewide tests is an excellent (26 percent) or good (46 percent) way to evaluate teachers.

New Yorkers value statewide test results in measuring kids, schools, and teachers. Respondents in the poll said that results of statewide tests are valuable as a means for parents to evaluate the performance of their own children (38 percent strongly agree, 41 percent agree), for parents and communities to evaluate schools (38 percent strongly agree, 45 percent agree), for schools to evaluate teachers (36 percent strongly agree, 41 percent agree), and for schools to evaluate students (42 percent strongly agree, 48 percent agree). With only slightly less enthusiasm, respondents also said state tests measure the knowledge and skills students need to succeed in college (36 percent strongly agree, 38 percent agree) and in jobs (25 percent strongly agree, 35 percent agree).

New Yorkers think state tests tied to graduation make students work harder. Thirty-seven percent of respondents strongly agreed and 34 percent agreed. Parents indicated that they believe even more strongly in the effect of graduation-linked tests on students' work habits, with 51 percent of parents strongly agreeing and 25 percent agreeing.