Our Numbers Obsession Will Kill Us
It’s been an assessment oriented day here on the ol’ blog.
From the Boston Globe:
But if Shaffer and other next-generation test designers share a dream of replacing pen-and-paper exams with process-oriented problem-solving exercises, they also share a thorny challenge: The skills they’re trying to measure are much harder to detect and quantify than, say, whether someone knows the quadratic formula. “It’s not just that [complex skills] are harder to isolate—it’s that they don’t exist in isolation,” said Shaffer.
Breaking down these multifaceted skills into testable qualities is difficult, and it’s something educators have been trying and failing to do for more than half a century. The first president of ETS, which has long administered the SAT, set out in 1948 to develop a test that could evaluate a student’s intellectual stamina, ability to get along with others, and so on—but the company eventually concluded it was too hard to measure in a reliable way. More recently, in the late 1980s and ’90s, the Harvard developmental psychologist Howard Gardner participated in an effort to design new kinds of tests in the humanities that could be graded objectively. Ultimately, he found that the nuance required to measure softer skills collided with the demands of standardization. When a test needs to reliably compare students from across schools and districts, “there is pressure to simplify, have ironclad rubrics, essentially move toward multiple choice,” Gardner wrote in an e-mail.
And there you have it. “The nuance required to measure softer skills collided with the demands of standardization.” And god knows we need to standardize because if we don’t, how in the heck are we going to rank kids, evaluate teacher effectiveness, give letter grades to schools, assess teacher preservice programs, and beat Finland?
Here’s the thing: You may think the Common Core is more about critical thinking and skills than about content, a move in the right direction, but it doesn’t matter. The assessments will HAVE TO BE about the quantifiable, since we’ve done such a good job at raising the stakes around how the results will be used.
According to the late Gerald Bracey, who conducted extensive research and authored numerous books about the misuse of data on education among policymakers, politicians, and the media, a measure of some of the most valuable achievements that test results cannot capture include: creativity, critical thinking, resilience, motivation, persistence, curiosity, endurance, reliability, enthusiasm, self-discipline, leadership, resourcefulness, and a sense of wonder [Emphasis mine].
“[Historically], the testing industry, because it was pragmatic, only tested what it was easy to test. But as a parent, I don’t want you to just test what’s easy to test, I want you to test what’s important to test.”
Sadly, that ain’t gonna happen.