“Let me be your ruler, let me live that fantasy”
Education has become a measurements game. But a multi-speed game where those who measure, rule, and those don’t measure, judge.
Those who measure see it as an essential data collection to use towards the achievement of goals, improved performance, and success.
Those who don’t measure see it as a wasted exercise is assessing irrelevant data, narrow mindedness, and results orientated education that does not differentiate.
Neither of these positions are based on truth, and they aren’t useful, but the conflict exists and educators appear to be taking sides.
Two important comments came out of an excellent blog (you should read it too) I was reading yesterday:
“In sport and some (but not all) other human activities ‘performance’ is a requirement. Simply put if you don’t ‘perform’ you’re out – of a job, of the team, of business. But what is ‘performance’? Sometimes it’s just about winning and losing.”
“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that is counted, counts”
In education, it, as in life, is all about performance. But it is vitally important to appreciate that educational performance is conceivable in infinite realms; social skills, learning skills, habits of mind, knowledge, practical skills, community engagement, etc., but only measured in very few; Numeracy, Literacy, test scores. This is where the true data conflict begins, if we are very clear about the terms of this conflict, it exists because all the outcomes that we consider goals for our students are not measurable. It is grossly counterproductive to use what is seen as being the ultimate goal setting process, SMART, because it forces specificity and measurement on concepts that we do not know how to measure. In fact, dedicating time to measuring things like social skills, habits of the mind, and learning (the process, not the outcome), detracts from what you are trying to achieve. So we are brought to the second idea, not every goal that we have of an educational system is measurable, and not everything that is measured has real value to us gaining insight into the abilities of our students.
I reviewed a huge amount of NAPLAN data over the last week. We had our typical comments, “oh student A is terrible at math”, “this test is unfair to our special needs students”, “well this IS a snapshot of one day in the life of our students, what if they are sick”, but these comments, although completely true, actually take us further from solutions. Educators in Australia need to accept that OUR performance is measured in NAPLAN or myschool scores, and that people do not want to hear about how unfair we think the tests are. How we use this data is vitally important, far more important than the gross data itself.
As a part of a focus group on pedagogical change, I have been looking at strategic intent, high-impact strategies and high-impact measurements. The strategic intent is clear, the high-impact strategies are grounded in the research that we have framed our intent around, but our measurements are usually less clear and certainly less valuable. Typically, student results, i.e.: the only measurement we currently have, are used to determine the success of an educational reform strategy. However, there is research that pedagogical change is both required and successful, and further to this, teachers have a professional responsibility to continually improve their knowledge and understanding of the craft of teaching and to translate that knowledge into practice. This informs us that the most successful measurement tool is actually a measurement of if a teacher is actually enacting change, rather than to see whether it is “working”. As such, the measurement tools move into the classroom, they are more diverse as they require instruments that survey students, teachers and mentors objectively, rather than subjectively.
The onus of action research is then placed back onto the teachers, who choose case studies to determine the effects of their pedagogical change on the outcomes that they set for the students. Again we find ourself at the point in the cycle where a valuable measurement instrument is required. Considering we are mandated to perform some instruments (NAPLAN and standard reports) already, it is likely that this will continue to be used again…