Sunday, May 26, 2013

Test Teaching

On a recent road trip, I listened to the audiobook Moneyball. It made me wonder if anyone has written on the clear connection between ideas presented in the book and the focus of public education on standardized test scores.

A good portion of Moneyball discusses a man named Bill James's obsession with the way general managers in Major League Baseball were using statistics to make poor decisions about where to spend their money. Among the problems he noticed were:

- baseball statisticians have long recorded perceived mistakes in the fielding game as errors, despite that many baseball players often have to do something right in the first place to put themselves in a place where they could make an "error." He noted that the recording of errors is really just a record of statisticians opinons.
- managers put a huge emphasis on players' RBI despite that getting on base is more often correlated with team success
- pitchers' ability to accumulate saves, and thus be identified as closers (which increases their price), is actually an extraordinarily overrated asset

The connections to the way data is misused in education are crystal clear.

The way that educators and policymakers misuse test data to make decisions in education today will one day be thought of as we think back on Eugenics today. It is a false science. It relies on data that is poorly understood, and it has clumsily created a number of poorly used and poorly understood tools in service of making public education a science.

We may one day have the tools necessary to make teaching and learning a more exact science. We are nowhere near that today. Policymakers would do well to take heed of the knowledge contained in Moneyball. The effects of public education policy are much more crucial to the functioning of democratic society.