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Monday, August 19, 2013

Measure (What?) Up

What we decide to measure takes on significant importance.  Whether it is calories we eat, pounds we lose, sales for the quarter, hours lost due to accidents, or any other important measurable goal, the act of deciding to measure it changes our mindset.  Once we become intent on measuring a data set, our psyches are such that it has an impact on our behaviors and practices.  In effect, we begin diverting effort, resources, and time in attempt to make those data improve (sometimes even through questionable manipulations).   

That measure-it-to-make-it-improve dynamic is a good thing only if we are wise in the choosing.  In education, when we decided to measure students’ performance on math and reading, and publish those results widely, the amount of effort and attention (and money) dedicated to teaching math and reading rose significantly.  And, so did the students’ reading and math scores.  When we began rating students, schools, and teachers along those lines some rather ugly adaptations began to enacted.

The real trick is in prioritizing what we choose to measure (since our effort, resources, and time are ALWAYS finite).  In Leadership and the New Science (2006), Margaret Wheatley astutely observes, “Every act of measurement loses more information than it gains, closing the box irretrievably and forever on other potentials.”  

Certainly, math and reading are important learning expectations for children, but are they the most important outcomes we should be seeking in order to best prepare our children for successful lives?  If we truly aspire for our children to be lifelong learners, people of compassion, thoughtful, grateful, polite, empathic, etc., etc., how might we reinforce/measure that type of learning in a way that causes us to focus attention and effort and resources to the teaching of same?


  1. Each of the things you mention (compassion, thoughtfulness, gratefulness, politeness, empathy, etc) are best taught by example. And all can be incorporated in most every learning experience. A question of values and respect - often lost in efforts to measure retention of information. How do we measure inquisitiveness?

  2. Agreed, Doc, with note that that modeling for many of our students to frequently must come from outside their home environment.

    One of the downsides of clearly establishing goals and collecting the data in that interest is that we are often guilty of deciding what's important based on what's easiest to measure. "Important" and "easy to measure" are RARELY one and the same.


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