Latino voters consider California’s standardized tests an important measure of student growth and school performance, according to a new poll that shows the state’s largest minority group also feels strongly about teacher accountability and investing additional dollars in public education.

A majority of Latino voters, 55%, said mandatory exams improve public education in the state by gauging student progress and providing teachers with vital information. Nearly the same percentage of white voters said such exams are harmful because they force educators to narrow instruction and don’t account for different styles of learning.

The Times’ Howard Blume and USC’s Dan Schnur discuss the results of the USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll.
The contrast between Latino and white voters offered by the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll also plays out in the frequency of testing in public schools. Only 23% of Latinos said students were tested too much, compared with 44% of white voters.

For Marianna Sanchez, who has six children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, standardized testing offers the assurance that her children are learning the skills they need to pursue college and enter the workforce.

Sanchez, who has dyslexia, said frustration led her to drop out as she struggled to keep up in high school. The Fresno-area homemaker and her husband, a farmworker, want more for their children.

“They’re testing them so we can know what they’re learning, if they are learning anything, and if they’re at the standards they need to be at to transfer eventually to a university,” Sanchez said. “We want to know that they know what they’re doing when they get there and if the teachers are actually teaching them what they need to be taught.”

Latinos make up a majority of California’s more than 6 million public school children. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest system in the country, three out of four students are Latino.

Roberta Salin, a white voter in Los Angeles County, said standardized testing has created a culture at schools that focuses on learning basic knowledge and neglects other relevant material because it is not included in exams.

“Do we need testing? Of course we do, but not the way it’s done now,” said Salin, a retired information technology director. “I have two sons who graduated and went to college, but they’ll be the first to tell you that they didn’t learn history until they got to college because everything [in high school] is geared toward the next test.”

Race and socioeconomic status are so highly tied together that your new emerging communities, which are a little more downscale, are … more invested in a better education system.

– Dave Kanevsky of American Viewpoint, the Republican half of the polling team
Nationally, standardized testing has come under increasing criticism from some lawmakers, parents and educators who argue that the mandated exams are excessive and siphon away time that should go toward instruction. Supporters say exams are necessary to assess student progress, teacher performance and measure the effectiveness of schools and districts.

To read the full story at the LA Times, click here.