Measuring and Its Impact Upon Students and Schools

I think there have been times when those in power haven't fully understood the long-term effects of policy decisions once made in the name of hopeful progress. Not usually prone to blaming individuals for such lapses in logic, I might even naively believe that decisions like NCLB were originally made with good intentions.

Nonetheless, the following three related precepts illustrate precisely why NCLB has been less than successful, and why high-pressure efforts to measure student, teacher, and school efforts will often result in less-than-desirable and even unintended consequences.

Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle:

In quantum mechanics, certain pairs of physical properties, such as position and momentum, cannot be simultaneously known to arbitrarily high precision.
In other words, the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely others can be measured (see Heisenberg, 1927).

Goodhart's Law:
Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes. (Chrystal and Mizen, 2001, p. 4)
Campbell's Law:
The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
Campbell elaborates by stating:
Achievement tests may well be valuable indicators of general school achievement under conditions of normal teaching aimed at general competence. But when test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways. (Campbell, 1976, p. 56-57)
Pep rallies, held (among other reasons) for the purpose of gearing students up for coming tests, might be seen as an unintended and clearly less-than-desirable consequence of the do-or-die pressure put on schools to meet the demands put on them by others.

While these rallies are not new, Will Richardson and others have recently voiced their concerns about the seemingly (likely?) inappropriate efforts made by some in public schools to help their students to pass "the test." I responded to Will's Pep Rally post by wondering aloud:
So Will, what would you recommend that those in the trenches of Public Ed do?

Can you really blame them for giving their all in helping their students to pass the test(s!)? These schools behave as if their very lives depend upon how well their students perform relative to others because - without a doubt - they absolutely do. From charters to vouchers to let’s-all-stay-at-home school, the competition for dollars has never been so fierce.

Nevertheless, perhaps this post wasn’t written to those whose financial backing depends on governmental approval. Perhaps you were writing to the millions of voices out there who don’t read your blog, or maybe even to those voters who once thought they had a chance to actually make a difference.

From a 30,000-foot view, Will, I do believe you’re right! School should be about learning, it should be individualized, and should always feel more HUMAN. But as one on the ground, who’s not yet given up the fight, I’ll applaud those schools for trying to help their kids “succeed” and survive, in order to live yet another day.

Yes, what would you have us do?
I can't wait to read Will's response!


Hat tip to Chris Lehmann for nudging me toward Campbell's Law, and to John Pederson for nudging me again.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Creative Commons License
Original content distributed on this site is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.