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Measuring products the Consumer Union way?

FairTest’s Bob Shaeffer was interviewed recently by Florida Sentinel editorial writer Darryl Owens about tests. Here’s one of the questions he was asked:

QUESTION by Owens: Florida House Speaker Dean Cannon noted in a recent guest column that we measure progress in everything from business to sports. Shouldn’t there be a rigorous process to measure student learning?

Interesting and important question. But even Bob–who is one of the best in the field–doesn’t pick up on one of many essential differences between business measurement and education” measurement.

Do we, in business, “measure” the product? No, not even on some invented test that rates it’s qualities, No, we measure, in business, the profit. We can be producing a lousy, even dangerous product, but if it makes a profit those responsible are happy–including their owners. (Ideally they are also skeptical enough to peruse the data with care.)

In schools, students are the products (I assume). There IS no profit! That’s just a fact, and thus they can’t be measured that way. So we’re stuck with figuring out how to objectively measure the student/product, as though he/she/it were, for example, a car. Consumer’s Union does a pretty good job – although we don’t all follow their advice because we don’t aways weigh the plusses and minuses the way CU does. It’s pretty complex and expensive to follow their system of assessment, of course, and their method also assumes that assessing one “model” will do for all cars that are that same model.

Until we acknowledge the difference between measuring the profit vs the product, as well as the difference between standardized products and human beings we will keep chasing ..rainbows? No, chasing rainbows is harmless. It’s an argument for choice, I suppose, –for valuing disciplined human judgment. As some of you know I’ve been a proponent of choice–under certain circumstances–for 35 plus years. And I’ve written about what choice could look like if it was part of a well-designed public system. But it wouldn’t look anything like the “choice model” being pursued by those who see students (except their own children) as standardized products designed for someone’s profit. But it requires accepting the fact that judging human understanding can’t be done within the current psychometric paradigm. It depends a lot on our subjective purposes–which at least Consumers Union recognizes when it comes to the products it rates

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