Student Well-Being Opinion

What If You’re Not As Good As You Think?

By Emily Douglas-McNab — February 17, 2014 2 min read
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I had a fascinating conversation with a group of Ohio educators last week about the evolution of teacher evaluations in this country. One person pointed out that many teachers, who, for years, have received a 5 out of 5 on their evaluation, now feel like their world has come “crashing down” if they get a less than perfect score. In 2009, The New Teacher Project published the Widget Effect which concluded that “in districts which use binary evaluation ratings...more than 99 percent of teachers receive the satisfactory rating,” while systems that use a broader range of factors gave 94 percent of teachers one of the top two ratings.

We talked about the myriad things that could affect an evaluation score--from evaluator reliability and skill to tool validity to the demographics of kids in a classroom. Then, an interesting question was posed by another teacher: What if the people who received low evaluation scores deserved them? What if they don’t know how to tell if they’re good at what they do? What if they’re just not that great of a teacher?

Last month, a friend and former teacher sent me an article from Harvard Business Review online called “If You Were a Poor Performer, You Wouldn’t Be Aware of It” by Andrew O’Connell. The author explained:

“In a logic test administered to people who had volunteered over the internet, a team of researchers found that the lowest scorers vastly overestimated their performance, believing, on average, that they had gotten 7 out of 10 items right, when the actual figure was 0, according to Thomas Schlösser of the University of Cologne in Germany. People who lack the skill to perform well also tend to lack the ability to judge performance (their own or others’); because of this “dual curse,” they fail to recognize how incompetent they truly are.”

These researchers were testing something called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In their paper, Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments, professors Justin Kruger and David Dunning write that “People tend to hold an overly favorable view of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains.” They suggest, “overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunates choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it.”

I’ve read a few more articles on Dunning and Kruger’s work. In short, they have concluded that an individual who lacks a certain skill also lack the ability to objectively evaluate their own performance.

What are your perceptions of this research? How might it impact how we think about evaluations in education and other industries?

For more information on talent management, human capital, or process improvement in education, follow Emily on Twitter: @EmilyDouglasHC.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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