Schooling Beyond Measure
The reason that standardized-test results tend to be so uninformative and misleading is closely related to the reason that these tests are so popular in the first place. That, in turn, is connected to our attraction to—and the trouble with—grades, rubrics, and various practices commended to us as "data based."
The common denominator? Our culture's worshipful regard for numbers. Roger Jones, a physicist, called it "the heart of our modern idolatry ... the belief that the quantitative description of things is paramount and even complete in itself."
Quantification can be entertaining, of course. Readers love Top 10 lists, and our favorite parts of the news are those with numerical components: sports, business, and weather. There's something comforting about the simplicity of specificity. As the educator Selma Wassermann observed, "Numbers help to relieve the frustrations of the unknown." If those numbers are getting larger over time, we figure we must be making progress. Anything that resists being reduced to numerical terms, by contrast, seems vaguely suspicious, or...
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