Friday, September 21, 2012

Testsandgrades are just tools -- it's how they are used that matters most.

When I make the case that testsandgrades have no place in education, I am often met with a common rebuttal that goes something like this:
Testsandgrades are just tools. They are not inherently good or bad. It's how they are used that matters most.
This rebuttal has troubled me for sometime because deep down I have always sensed there to be something off with this reasoning, but until now, I've had a hard time articulating it.

While I have been loosely familiar with Marshall McLuhan who told us, "We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us."

But it wasn't until I read Alfie Kohn's Schooling Beyond Measure that I felt like I could put my thoughts to words:
You've heard it said that tests and other measures are, like technology, merely neutral tools, and all that matters is what we do with the information. Baloney. The measure affects that which is measured. Indeed, the fact that we chose to measure in the first place carries causal weight. His speechwriters had President George W. Bush proclaim, "Measurement is the cornerstone of learning." What they should have written was "Measurement is the cornerstone of the kind of learning that lends itself to being measured." 
One example: It's easier to score a student writer's proficiency with sentence structure than her proficiency at evoking excitement in a reader. Thus, the introduction of a scoring device like a rubric will likely lead to more emphasis on teaching mechanics. Either that, or the notion of "evocative" writing will be flattened into something that can be expressed as a numerical rating. Objectivity has a way of objectifying. Pretty soon the question of what our whole education system ought to be doing gives way to the question of which educational goals are easiest to measure.
The question isn't just how we should use our tools, like testsandgrades, rather we should be taking step back and asking should we be using these tools at all.

If we enslave education to the quantifiable, we fall victim to what some have called the McNamara Fallacy.  If we can't abandon our needless obsession with reducing learning and people to numbers, school will continue to be a place that less and less of our children will feel like they belong.

1 comment:

  1. Another brilliant post, sir!

    I read a quote that I used as my e-mail signature right around EQAO result time.

    It went something like, "We tend to value what we measure, rather than measure what we value."

    ReplyDelete

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