A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

[Education Research Report]

Parental Satisfaction With Schools And The Need For Standards

November 1992

The National Council on Education Standards and Testing has called for the development of a voluntary nationwide system of assessments tied to national standards for each of the five core subjects of English, mathematics, science, history, and geography. These standards represent what young Americans need to know and be able to do if they are to live and work successfully in today's world.

One question often raised is why we need national standards and a new system of voluntary assessments. Don't parents already have the information they need to make judgments about the effectiveness of their local schools?

There is evidence that they do not: despite clear indications that student achievement is low and widespread concern about this, most parents express satisfaction with their children's achievement and schools.

High Satisfaction vs. Low Achievement

What might explain this gap between low achievement and high satisfaction? In an international comparative study about the relationship between student achievement and parental satisfaction with schools, the authors found that "American parents face a number of serious impediments in judging the quality of their children's education. One of the strongest obstacles is the lack of clear external standards. American elementary schools generally do not provide grades: instead they offer parents an evaluation of their children's progress made since the last report. Or, the teacher may offer a broad classification such as outstanding, satisfactory, or needs improvement."

To further explore the issue of assessing achievement, this research report compares parents' satisfaction about the quality of their eighth grade children's schooling with the students' mathematics achievement, using data collected for the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88). Data from the 1990 mathematics assessment conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are included for comparison.

This analysis focuses on math achievement because of its importance for today's students. Research indicates that both the number of courses taken and the level of performance in math impact students' future job prospects and earnings. This is the case for those who enter college and those who enter the job market. Both will need math in their jobs and to expand their careers just as they need it in their everyday lives. And, we know that students are neither taking very many math courses nor doing very well in them. According to the 1990 mathematics assessment conducted by NAEP:

Despite this low achievement, a majority of parents of eighth grade students surveyed for NELS:88--parents of public and private school students alike--believed that their own child's school was doing a good job of preparing students for further education.

The paradox of high parental satisfaction in the face of evidence of poor student performance suggests that most parents have no common standard against which they can judge their own children's achievement. We found that while parents whose children are not doing well in math (as measured by the NELS:88 achievement tests) are somewhat less satisfied with their children's schools than are parents whose children are doing well, a majority still believe that their children's schools are doing a good job of preparing students for high school and college:

This pattern is true for both public and private schools. In fact, a greater percentage of the parents of the lowest achieving private school students believe that the school is preparing students well for college (70 percent vs. 60 percent).


Table 1

Parental satisfaction with schools, by eighth grade students' math achievement score

________________________________________________________________  Math                      All        Parents of         Parents of  test                  Parents          public            private quartile                               school             school                                       students           students __________________________________________________________________  Percentage who agree or strongly agree with each statement  "The school is preparing students well for high school."
    Total                   81              80                 89   Quartile 1 (low)           75              75                 84  Quartile 2                 80              79                 86  Quartile 3                 82              81                 89  Quartile 4 (high)          88              87                 93   "The school is preparing students well for college."
    Total                   69              67                 79   Quartile 1 (low)           61              60                 70  Quartile 2                 66              65                 75  Quartile 3                 70              69                 79  Quartile 4 (high)          77              76                 84  

What about parents of children in high poverty schools (i.e., schools with large concentrations of children from poor families)? Research has shown that children in high poverty schools are much more likely than other children to leave school unprepared for the work force or for further education.

Despite such low performance, according to NELS:88 data these parents are satisfied with the quality of their children's education:


Table 2

Parental satisfaction with their eighth grade children's schools, by school poverty level (public schools only)

___________________________________________________________________  Percentage of students          Percentage of parents who agree or in the school                   strongly agree that the school is receiving free or                  preparing students well for: reduced price lunch              ______________________________                                  High School            College __________________________________________________________________   0                                     82                  69  1-5                                   83                  72  6-10                                  82                  71  11-20                                 82                  68  21-30                                 80                  66  31-50                                 78                  65  51-75                                 79                  64  76-100                                75                  59 

What accounts for such a high level of parental satisfaction, when the children are doing so poorly? It may well be that parents have limited ways of judging how well their children are doing. How do parents know if report cards filled with A's mean their children are learning what they should in the eighth grade? How do parents judge whether their children's eighth grade classes are challenging or mediocre?

Grades Do Not Tell Us Enough

Parents have to rely primarily on grades to determine how much their children are learning--and according to the grades, their children are doing well. A majority of eighth grade students surveyed by NELS:88 reported that they have received "mostly A's" or "mostly B's" in math from grade six through grade eight.

Did two out of every three of the eighth grade students surveyed by NELS:88 really do well in math? While students who scored poorly on the NELS:88 math test were less likely to report getting A's and B's than students who did well on the test, 45 percent of the eighth grade students who scored in the bottom quarter on the math test reported getting mostly A's and B's.

Parents may reasonably conclude from these grades that their children are doing well, when, in fact, the children may not be learning the math they need for further education and work in today's world.


Table 3

Percentage of eighth grade students reporting mostly A's and B's in math from grade six to the present, by control of school and math achievement score

___________________________________________________________________ Math                      All             Public           Private test                 students             school            school quartile                                students          students ___________________________________________________________________     All students           67                66                  75  Quartile 1 (low)          45                44                  47 Quartile 2                58                58                  63 Quartile 3                75                75                  78 Quartile 4 (high)         90                89                  92 

Conclusions

Parents cannot rely solely on their children's grades to determine the quality of their education. In order to ensure that their children are receiving a world class education that prepares them for the 21st century, parents need external standards against which they can assess the performance of their children and their children's schools.

In math, curriculum standards have been developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). These standards identify the areas of math students should study in grades K through 12. Similar standards are being developed in other subject areas.

Recommendations

Parents should ask their school principal for a copy of the NCTM standards and how they are being implemented in the school curriculum. While these standards provide guidance on what children should study in math, they do not provide parents with information on how well their children are doing. Therefore, parents may also want to ask their children's teachers about the education their children are receiving. For example:

Have you talked to their employers about additional skills they should be learning in high school to improve their job performance and career options?

Most important, parents should ensure that they have the information they need to judge what their children know and can do.

References

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA: 1989.

National Council on Education Standards and Testing.
Raising Standards for American Education. A Report to Congress, the Secretary of Education, the National Education Goals Panel, and the American People. Washington, DC:1992.

Stevenson, Harold W. and Stigler, James W.
The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn From Japanese and Chinese Education. New York: Summit Books, 1992.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Prepared by Educational Testing Service.
The State of Mathematics Achievement: Executive Summary, Report No. 21-ST-03. Washington, D.C.: June 1991.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
User's Manual: National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988. Base Year: Parent Component Data File User's Manual. Data Series: DR-NELS: 88-88-2.2. Washington, D.C.: March 1990.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
User's Manual: National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988. Base Year: Student Component Data File User's Manual. Data Series: DR-NELS: 88-88-1.2. Washington, D.C.: March 1990.

Notes:

(1) The data on student grades in this report are from the National Education Longitudinal Survey of 1988 (NELS:88). NELS includes surveys of eighth grade students, their parents, and their teachers, and provides information on family characteristics, school characteristics, and student achievement.

(2) Tables of standard errors and numbers of cases are available on request.


This Research Report is produced by the Office of Research, Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) of the U.S. Department of Education.

Richard W. Riley, Secretary of Education
Sharon P. Robinson, Assistant Secretary, OERI
Joseph P. Conaty, Acting Directory, OR

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