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Education Opinion

Fixation on Metrics Has Unintended Consequences

By Walt Gardner — February 14, 2018 1 min read

The U.S. is obsessed with data (“A Cure for Our Fixation on Metrics,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 12). Certainly, measurement is important, but it does not trump judgment. Let’s not forget that inferences have to be eventually drawn no matter how unambiguous the data may seem.

That’s particularly so in teaching. For example, the assumption is that test scores tell us who the best teachers are. After all, if they are doing their job, their students should post consistently high results. Yet we know that is not necessarily the case. Yet we persist in labeling schools and teachers as failing based almost exclusively on data.

Judgment often is seen in the percentage of students who request particular teachers. Critics will argue that students express their preferences solely on the ease of getting a high grade. That may sometimes be true, but I think students are not that easily fooled. I wouldn’t write off the accuracy of their judgment so quickly.

I have no objection to amassing data in schools. But I caution that there is far more to the issue than that. The trouble is that it’s much easier to quantify than to qualify. That’s why I expect to see our obsession intensify in the years ahead.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.