April 16, 2019

What is a Measurebater and why is it important for school leaders?

Measurebating is a term that has its roots in the photography industry. It is used to denote someone who is more interested in how the camera will work in theory (because of the associated technical aspects attached to the performance), than how the camera will actually perform. I believe education reformers and those that create education policy suffer from an education version of measurebating.

Why Discuss Measurebating Now?

April is a great time to have a discussion about measurebating in education. As I talk to educators this time of year and I ask them how they are doing, most of them take a deep breath, sigh, and say, “You know it’s that time of year”. Of course, that time of year is the time for the state-mandated testing of learners. Teachers are on edge as they contemplate whether they “covered” the right amount of curriculum (“covering” curriculum will be another blog topic). Administrators are worried whether their testing schedules will work as well in real life as they do on paper. Learners are freaking out because they know if they do not do well most of them will end of in some sort of remediation class. So why all of the stress and angst?….measurebating.

The official definition of measurebate in education (according to me): To obsess over a learner’s test scores until one is blind to the fact that the numbers represent an actual person. To forget (during your rapture of analyzing data) that education is a human business.

Measurebating Takes Root in Schools

The implementation of accountability systems in education (starting in the late 1990’s and exploding with No Child Left Behind in 2002) was a reaction to a perception of poor results in our school system. To assure all students learned and all schools were accountable for their students learning, a system of testing was put in place to assure 100% of all learners were “proficient” in 10 years. Testing learners every year on state-wide exams, it was believed at the time, assured policymakers they could track “learning”. Schools and teachers are held accountable for the learning of their students. The results of these tests are made public and schools graded on how well their learners perform on the tests. Schools that do well are left alone while those that are deemed as struggling are required to participate in programs designed to improve their scores. Another name for this system is blame and shame. An accountability system based on blame and shame creates a perverse incentive system where data algorithms and analysis become the dominant mindset for educators. The definition of a great teacher or administrator shifts to someone who excels at manipulating data. Data, data, data became the mantra instead of students, kids and learners.

Pushback on the Measurebating Mentality

Fortunately, there are factions within the world of education that push back against the narrative of the importance of data. Educators realize that some form of assessment for their learners is vital. Their pushback is not on the value of a well thought-out assessment. Rather, it is with the unintended result that data becomes more important than the individual learner. Personalized learning is a reaction to the use of assessments in such a way that individual learners directly benefited. Mass Customized Learning deepened the work of personalized learning by encouraging a change in the structures of schooling to assure the measurebating mindset did not occur again.

How Not to Become a Measurebater

  1. Remind yourself that you are in a human business. Research indicates that if you observe your clients (in this case learners) while you work, you will create programs and services more suited for them. So, go out in the schools and observe classrooms, lunchrooms, and recesses. Those kids that you see…they are the reason you are in your job. If you are a teacher, create learning experiences that are uncompromisingly learner-centered. If you are an administrator, incorporate individual learners into every decision you make. If you can’t observe kids, have pictures of your learners throughout your workspace to remind you of the importance of human beings. You are not there to obsess over the theoretical particulars of the analytics for the test numbers.
  2. Do not, ever (and I mean ever) use the term “Bubble kids”. If you are an administrator you know what a bubble kid is. They are the learners that fall in between two different levels of performance. In order to play the game of meeting different levels of proficiency, the school may feel pressure to “move” them up to the next level. This is usually done with remediation programs targeting learners whom the school administrators feel can go to the next higher level. Bubble kids are also the learners that schools target to increase the “value added” score. Voodoo statistical analysis claims they predict the range of scores a learner achieves from one year to the next. Thus, from year-to-year you see the “value” each teacher added to the student. If a teacher “grows” a learner beyond the expected level, then all is good. If they don’t then “Bubble kids” are created. In order not to measurebate, just don’t use the term “Bubble kids”!
  3. Create and articulate your values and vision for learning. Oftentimes, people measurebate because they unwittingly adopt the measurebater mindset. This mindset, when adopted uncritically, shuts down other options for action. Go to the next best thing because they shut their brains down. Educators who have a well-defined vision grounded in values they can explain are less apt to become measurebaters.
  4. Give Hope. At a basic level, we interact with individual children…period. Make sure learners walk out of your classroom or school building with a sense of hope and optimism about their lives. Anyone who has spent time in a school can think of learners who do well on a test, but did not necessarily learn anything…we also know learners who did learn but couldn’t pass a test to save their lives! Get back to basics…answer these questions. What does a learner need? How are you going to deliver it? How do you know they have learned it? Finally, remember that those tests don’t drive curriculum, learners do.
  5. No Throw Away Kids. I am humbled by the work of my colleague superintendents and principals who stand for the poor and dispossessed in their school system. The school leaders that I hang out with do not allow kids to fall through the cracks of their systems without fighting to keep them. This is not done to boost some sort of “school report card”…it is done because it is the right thing to do!

Ending Measurebation

Measurebating is a result of good intentions by some education reform leaders to help learners. Unfortunately, their policy prescriptions has an unintended result of creating a cult of data analysis. The danger for schools and educators is that they become focused so much on testing data they forget about individual learners. However, personalized learning and mass customized learning lead us away from the measurebating mindset and move us to a more learner-centered paradigm.

The question for you and your school: do you measurebate?

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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