Cover: What Are Teachers' and School Leaders' Major Concerns About New K–12 State Tests?

What Are Teachers' and School Leaders' Major Concerns About New K–12 State Tests?

Findings from the American Teacher and American School Leader Panels

Published Oct 18, 2016

by Julia H. Kaufman, Laura S. Hamilton, Brian M. Stecher, Scott Naftel, Michael W. Robbins, Chandra Garber, Cordaye Ogletree, Susannah Faxon-Mills, V. Darleen Opfer

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Research Questions

  1. What are teachers' and principals' major concerns about new state tests?
  2. Do teacher and principal concerns about new state tests differ if their state uses PARCC, Smarter Balanced, or a different test?
  3. Are teachers' concerns different in schools with higher versus lower percentages of free/reduced lunch students?

Many states have recently made major changes to their K–12 student testing programs. The media have reported growing dissatisfaction with the amount of testing happening in schools and the use of tests for high-stakes decisionmaking. However, there is little systematically gathered information on the perspectives of U.S. educators who have firsthand knowledge about testing and its effects on teaching and learning. This report shares U.S. principals' and teachers' main concerns about testing, drawing upon new survey tools for understanding educators' perspectives and implementation of major education policies: RAND's American Teacher Panel (ATP) and American School Leader Panel (ASLP). The findings are drawn from the ATP and ASLP surveys fielded in February 2015, before the full administration of most state-mandated exams. Findings indicate particular concern with students' test performance, as well as more prevalent concerns about the PARCC assessment compared with other assessments. The information about U.S. educators' concerns will serve as a baseline for tracking changes in attitudes over time. This analysis focuses on "the main state-mandated test for mathematics" and "for English language arts" (ELA) that teachers and principals reported their students taking. This report was updated in October 2016. The current version provides estimates based on updated weights for a small percentage of the respondents. Weights were updated to account for infrequent misclassification in the assignment of school-level characteristics.

Key Findings

  • Most teachers expressed moderate or major concerns about test difficulty, low student performance on the tests, and test score accuracy for special needs students.
  • Teachers with students taking Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests were more likely to be concerned about testing issues than teachers with students taking other state tests.
  • Teachers at low-income schools were more likely to be concerned about testing issues than teachers in other schools.


  • States and districts need to communicate clearly and thoughtfully with principals and teachers about how to interpret test results and share them with students and families.
  • States and districts should clearly communicate whether and how test results will be used to make teacher- and school-performance decisions.
  • High educator concerns about student test performance may reflect an underlying concern among teachers that they are not prepared to help students meet more rigorous standards addressed by new standards-aligned assessments.

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