The Cult of Measurement

An interesting post by Anthony Cody (who is a 24-year K12 veteran teacher) addresses some views on "Bill Gates and the Cult of Measurement: Efficiency Without Excellence."  As he points out, since the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, much of what we call "school reform" has been tied to measurement, testing and numerical goals. Mathematician Cathy O'Neil has offered an interesting critique of the Gates method of solutions via measurement. She writes:

...the person who defines the model defines success, and by obscuring this power behind a data collection process and incrementally improved model results, it seems somehow sanitized and objective when it's not.

Don't be fooled by the mathematical imprimatur: behind every model and every data set is a political process that chose that data and built that model and defined success for that model.
There is an old saying, "when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." In our schools, standardized tests are our hammers, and as Cathy O'Neil points out, the standards and the tests that measure what has been learned have lots of questionable assumptions built in.

In his letter, Bill Gates draws an appealing portrait of how teaching is being improved at Eagle Valley High School in Vail, Colorado. Reflecting the findings of the Gates Foundation's Measures of Effective Teaching project, he points out that they focus on "several measures that schools should use to assess teacher performance, including test data, student surveys and assessments by trained evaluators."

Unfortunately, a closer look at their research shows that the way these various models are validated is by the degree to which they align with test scores. This is circular, as Bruce Baker explains in some detail...

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