Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Narrow measures of learning

Accountability in its current form has an obsession with outputs. And the output that accountability has fallen in love with is test scores.

More and more research is coming out, confirming what Jean Piaget said long ago:



"Anyone can confirm how little the grading that results from examinations corresponds to the final useful work of people in real life."


Whether or not we can or should eliminate testing is a larger and seperate point that I don't wish to try to make here. Rather, I would like to make the argument that we should measure and value educational inputs as much as as we value outputs.

Here are a list of inputs that we could measure and value to determine good schools and good teachers:


  • What is the book to student ratio in the school's library? How often are new books bought according to student's interests?
  • Is their an intramural program for kids to actively participate in?
  • What kinds of opportunities are there for students to go on field trips?
  • What kind of inventory does the science department have to facilitate science experiments?
  • Are students given the opportunity to learn how to properly use social networking programs such as Facebook, Twitter, wikis, blogs and discussion forums.
  • What is the student to computer ratio? Is there reliable internet connection?
  • Are there sports teams that take all who tryout and cut no one?
  • Are students encouraged and provided time to read for enjoyment?
  • Do staff find the time and make the effort to create strong and healthy relationships with their students?

Roger Martin, author of The Opposable Mind and The Design of Business explains, "the perception that good management is closley linked to good measurement runs deep." Too often we become very comfortable with sayings like "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it". Martin explains in his blog entry Management by Imagination:

"however comforting it can be to stick with what we can measure, we run the risk of expunging something really important. What's more, we won't see what we're missing because we don't know what it is that we don't know. By sticking simply to what we can measure, we come to imagine a small and constrained world in which we are prisoners of a 'reality' that is in fact an edifice we've unknowingly constructed around ourselves."


Our misguided obsessive need for data to drive our decisions has placed a disproportionate amount of emphasis on analytical thinking. This is not to say that we should abandon analytical thinking - rather, we simply need to strike a better balance with intuitive thinking (respecting what we know to be true without reasoning)

Until we can strike a better balance between analytical and intuitive thinking, accountability in education will remain on narrow measures of learning.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, I'm all for throwing out the measurement altogether. We had a fabulous learning experience the other day - totally unmeasurable ;-) http://www.nlpmum.com/random-stuff/rock-balancing

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