Monday, January 11, 2016

CURMUDGUCATION: Ranking Is Not Measuring

CURMUDGUCATION: Ranking Is Not Measuring:

Ranking Is Not Measuring

This point came up in passing a few days ago when I was reviewing some writing by Mark Garrison,
but it is worth hammering home all by itself.

We have been told repeatedly that we need to take the Big Standardized Tests so that we can hold schools accountable and tell whether our teachers are succeeding or not. "Of course we need accountability systems," the policy makers say. "Don't you want to know how well we're doing?"

And then we rank schools and teachers and students. But ranking is not measuring.

Would you rather be operated on by a top-ranking surgeon or one who was the bottom of his class? What if the former is the top graduate of Bob's Backyard School of Surgical Stuff and the latter is the bottom of Harvard Medical School? Would you like homework help from the dumbest person in MENSA or the smartest person in a 6th grade remedial class? And does that prompt you to ask what we even mean by "dumb" or "smart"? 

"But hey," you may reply. "If I'm going to rank people by a particular quality, I have to measure that quality, don't I?"

Of course not. You can find the tallest student in a classroom without measuring any of them. You can find the heaviest box of rocks by using a scale that doesn't ever tell you how much they weigh. Ranking requires no actual measurement at all.

Not only that, but when we are forced to measure, ranking encourages us to do it badly. Many qualities or characteristics would best be described or measured with a many-dimensional matrix with a dozen different axes. But to rank-- we have to reduce complex multidimensional 
CURMUDGUCATION: Ranking Is Not Measuring: