Alfie Kohn is one of the smartest observers of American education and someone whose voice needs to be heard more in the ongoing reform discussion. He recently posted an essay about how the increasing drive to collect data on kids is both “uninformative and misleading”.
The whole post is worth a few minutes to read (and pass along to your favorite school administrator and politician) but this observation is one that stands out for me.
You’ve heard it said that tests and other measures are, like technology, merely neutral tools, and all that matters is what we do with the information? Baloney. The measure affects that which is measured. Indeed, the fact that we chose to measure in the first place carries causal weight. His speechwriters had President George W. Bush proclaim, “Measurement is the cornerstone of learning.” What they should have written was, “Measurement is the cornerstone of the kind of learning that lends itself to being measured.” [emphasis mine]
Although the administration here in our overly-large school district talks a good game about “21st century skills”, “innovation”, “creativity”, and all the rest of the high minded phrases, the emphasis at the school level continues to be on testing and collecting more and more data to be analyzed.
And all those assessments, “formative”, practice, and otherwise, can’t help but shape – and narrow – instruction in most classrooms.