Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Don't confuse metrics for outcomes

I just want to add a caveat to my earlier post, Value-added teaching.

Higher test scores are an indicator of higher test scores.  We hope that they mean the kids learned more, but measurements are not necessarily reality.  Metrics can be gamed.

For instance, when we took a trip to Hawaii during late April a couple of years ago, we were astonished at the number of children at the hotel.  Didn't the kids have school?  And why were all the school-aged kids at the pool incredibly precocious?

The other parents clued me in.  (One was a pediatrician at a major research hospital & medical school.)

Standardized tests are given in May.  April is drill and kill time at schools around the country.  Kids that already know the material covered in the tests are bored to tears by drill and kill.  The teachers don't want them in the classroom, causing a ruckus and distracting the other kids.  Late April, after Spring break is over, is a wonderful time to book cheap airfares and hotels.

So how do we know whether a high score is due to coaching or deep mastery of a subject? 

We don't. 

As a scientist and a mommy, I am comfortable with ambiguity, but I know that I can never run for public office.  ;-)

To better measure how well someone has learned something, wait a few years and test their skills again.

Because we can't time travel and see if that kid really understands fractions and long-division, perhaps we can test their parents.

Sandra says that real-estate agents really stress school test scores, whipping potential home buyers into an emotional buying frenzy.  Perhaps real estate agents should be tested in elementary mathematics and the scores can be posted on the internet for easy comparison shopping?

If you read my education posts, you can see how my feelings toward our local school and school district have evolved.  I think that our family arrived in the school district at a particularly turbulent time, with a new principal and new district superintendent--both bent on making their mark.  Once they relaxed a bit, and we learned how to play the game, our experiences have been much, much better.


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