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Parents think standardized tests are useless. Teachers agree.

Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Parents think standardized tests are largely useless. But they think students should be required to take them anyway.

Education Next, a journal of education research that generally supports the education reform movement, polls parents, teachers, and the public annually to ask what they think about education. The results are, well, contradictory — and they demonstrate why it can be hard to judge whether education ideas are popular.

Parents generally support standardized testing

One of the most contentious issues as Congress tries to overhaul No Child Left Behind, the massive federal law governing K-12 education, was whether students should still be required to take tests every year.

A majority of parents in the Education Next poll said they should be. (The question didn't use the word "standardized," but it asked if the federal government should require students to be tested annually.) Parents were more supportive of annual standardized testing in reading and math than teachers were:

And only about 32 percent of parents said parents should be able to choose whether their children participate in the test; the rest agreed testing should be mandatory.

But they don't think standardized testing is very effective

Here's where things get weird: Parents and the public don't think the tests do a great job of measuring what students have learned. And yet they still think kids should have to take them.

This is part of a bigger issue with evaluating whether education policies are popular. It's the conventional wisdom that standardized tests are widely hated, and it's true that a backlash driven by both parents and teachers has grown over the last few years. Looked at one way, the results indicate that parents think standardized testing is pretty pointless — it does, at best, a fair job of measuring what children have learned.

On the other hand, it's also valid to interpret the poll as finding that parents are generally fine with their kids taking annual standardized tests, and that they think the tests are more effective than teachers do.

Those contradictions show up in other questions, too. People, including parents and teachers, overestimate the share of money the federal government provides to K-12 education — and then they say the federal government should kick in even more funding than it already does.

This demonstrates a basic fact about education: Many people don't spend a lot of time thinking about it and formulating policy positions.