Saturday, April 4, 2015

Testing what really matters

Measurement is good, as long as what you're measuring is meaningful.

Thanks to @kburiano
for the link to this great article that beautifully explains the importance of measurement and the importance of non-cognitive skills. There's been a lot of talk about these so-called "soft skills" lately in the business press, and for good reason. But they're generally neglected in schools (especially high schools), where we focus on content knowledge and skills. This is probably  because many educators don't think it's the job of the school to teach these things, but it could also be due in part to the difficulty in measuring them.

We struggled with this when we were working on our new graduations standards at the high school. Some of us wanted something about community and making a global contribution to be part of the standards, but we dropped it in part because of concerns about how we would measure it.

Maybe this is why typical standardized tests focus on easily measurable things like memory of facts, vocabulary, and mathematical techniques. But it's more likely we just haven't really decided, as schools and as a society, to really value the things that really matter.

Measurement is an essential factor in improvement, and measuring the things that matter really is possible. I believe that everything is inherently measurable, and as I've read books like Mindset, Flow, and the Happiness Hypothesis, I've often been excited by clever ways psychologists come up with for quantifying human psychology. This piece by Susan Engel just confirmed it all. She outlines a set of 6 attributes we should and could measure in schools, attributes that are much more important than a set of SAT vocab words or factoring a polynomial:
  1. Reading
  2. Inquiry
  3. Flexible Thinking and the Use of Evidence
  4. Conversation
  5. Collaboration
  6. Engagement
I'd add a more to the list: maybe perseverance, self-control, creativity, compassion, mindfulness, to name a few, but I don't have metrics handy (though I'm sure we could come up with some).

So let's get going. It's time to focus on what's really important, and we can develop the tools.

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