Testing May Discourage Parent Involvement, Study Finds

Published December 4, 2014

Saying there was little research about how extensive testing in education impacted parental attitudes toward education, Jesse Rhodes studied the issue in early 2012.

Rhodes, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, found parents in states with more extensive assessment systems had more negative attitudes about education and were less likely to become engaged in their children’s learning.

Rhodes’ study, released earlier this year, comes at a time when the nation’s education community in embroiled in an emotional debate about the Common Core State Standards, a movement to unify educational standards across the country.

The Common Core Connection

Rhodes says his research was completed before Common Core rose to the national consciousness, but another expert says Common Core can’t escape being linked to a study on the impact of high-stakes testing and accountability systems.

“Common Core reforms are inextricably linked to those testing and accountability systems,” said Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Forty-three states and Washington DC have adopted the Common Core standards, and Rhodes’ study found parents in states with more extensive assessment systems had significantly lower trust in government and much more negative attitudes about their children’s schools, and were significantly less likely to engage in some forms of participation in their children’s education.

Common Core standards affect what students will be taught in math and language arts from grades K-12. Initially, states signed up for the standards in hopes of winning Race to the Top money, a federally funded program in which states made certain changes to education policy in order to have a chance to win funding. Criticism of the standards continues to grow as time goes on. Oklahoma and Indiana have repealed the standards. North Carolina, South Carolina and Missouri have adopted legislation to review the standards.

“Given the advance state of standards, testing and accountability policymaking, these finds are cause for serious concern, if not alarm,” Rhodes wrote in his study.

Parents Frustrated with Schools, Government

Rhodes says states should implement a major reassessment of standards, testing, and accountability policies, and standards-based reforms should be redesigned to engage parents more directly in the process.

In his study, Rhodes said current policies don’t give parents much of an opportunity for input. That could send a message that government places a low value on parental input, he said.

“Even though school reform has been debated by politicians and the media for several decades, many parents still feel mystified by standards, testing, and accountability, and express deep ambivalence about the effects of these policies for their children’s education,” Rhodes told School Reform News. “They also feel left out of decisions that affect their children in a deep and fundamental way. This dissatisfaction leads to feelings of frustration and alienation, not just with schools but with government in general.”

Rhodes said his study is among the first to raise such concerns.

Going Overboard with Testing

Welner said people should be cautious about inferring causal relationships between high-stakes testing and the study’s findings.

“But it does raise red flags that call attention to an area we should keep an eye on,” he added.

Welner said he agrees with Rhodes that as long as testing and assessment are perceived as being done to children instead of being done with and for the children, parents will respond negatively.

“I think that’s an important lesson for all of us, across the political spectrum,” Welner said.

Kyle Olson, CEO and founder of the Education Action Group in Michigan, where Common Core is one of the most controversial topics, said he hasn’t heard about research involving extensive standardized testing and whether it could drive parents away.

“I could see that,” Olson said. “I’ve never heard that. It makes sense.”

Olson said standardized testing is important, but states may be going overboard with it.

“I fear there is going to be a backlash,” Olson said.

Tom Gantert ([email protected]) is senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a daily news site of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Image by Natalie Freitas.

 Learn More:

“Learning Citizenship? How State Education Reforms Affect Parents’ Political Attitudes and Behavior”, Jesse H. Rhodes, 2014, Department of Political Science, University of Massachusetts,