New Poll Reflects Unease About Tying Teacher Ratings to Test Scores

John Mooney | July 29, 2014 | Education
Fairleigh Dickinson survey reveals New Jerseyans not knowledgeable about Common Core standards

Public support for teacher and school accountability in New Jersey may only go so far.

That’s one conclusion that can be drawn from a new poll from Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Public Mind, which last week released its findings on what residents think about the new national Common Core State Standards and how New Jersey teachers are to be evaluated.

The overall impression of Common Core was unimpressive, with only a third of those surveyed even knowing enough about it to have an impression.

Even more interesting was a general skepticism, if not opposition, to the idea of using standards-driven tests to both reward and punish teachers.

Crossing party lines and other key demographics, 74 percent of those polled were against the use of standardized tests for penalizing teachers, and only half supported their use in rewarding them.

The findings from the poll of more than 800 residents were telling, coming at a time when New Jersey is among a growing number of states revamping how it evaluates teachers, including the use of student test performance for some.

But the debate has been intense, and New Jersey is also among those state having second thoughts about how far how fast, as evidenced by Gov. Chris Christie this month easing the weight of scores in teacher evaluations — at least for the time being.

The public’s response to poll questions reflects those mixed feelings, said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and a PublicMind survey analyst. He said part of that uncertainty is driven by the strong public employee sector — and its unions — but also by a general pride in the public schools.

“A lot has to do with what people think of their own individual teachers,” Cassino said. “People in New Jersey are by and large supportive of their teachers, and the education they provide. They don’t want to tip the apple cart.”

What he thought was particularly interesting was that opinions didn’t vary much between parties, with education being an issue that appears to be largely bipartisan.

The general assumption is Republicans who would typically support Christie have been known to be those pushing for greater accountability, much like the governor himself, Cassino said. But as President Barack Obama has pressed accountability through initiatives like the Race to the Top grant competition, a sizable number of the GOP have also jumped back.

“Now you have Republicans against it just because it is an Obama initiative,” he said.