I attended an interesting faculty meeting today. These are once a month affairs where we are tasked to work on a continuing project. The current project was for each grade level team to analyze our state test data and report out on any significant findings along with ideas on what we might do to mitigate any adverse findings.
Math was the first topic. Turns out (no surprise here, we've been doing this since the seas parted) number sense is a big deal. It's the highest percentage test item and also where we do the poorest.
When the elementary teachers made their presentations they described their efforts in this very area of arithmetical calculation, number sense stuff. Since I'm pretty frustrated with my kids' lack of ability in this domain, my ears were perked. They work really hard on this. I know this from personal observation. But, there was one omission.
Someone asked how many kids leave third grade knowing how to add. Crickets! It's not measured.
I posed a question about what is meant by 'knowing how to add'. Crickets! There is no criteria.
Then I was asked what I meant by asking that. My response had to do with objective measurement vs. subjective measurement. Crickets! Nobody has objective measures.
Here's what the consensus answer was (I'm paraphrasing). "We have a pretty good idea what most of our kids can do when they leave us." There you have the big omission. We have a completely fuzzy string of descriptors all wrapped up in one sentence; pretty good, most of, and can do. Not only is there no objective measurement taking place, there isn't even an awareness of what one should look like.
Suddenly the scales dropped from the eyes of this grasshopper. We're getting what we measure! Subjective measures lead to subjective results. We aren't asking for kids to know facts. We're asking kids to get answers and it's perfectly OK if they do this with fingers, toes, and mystical incantations to math gods. We even meet the, by God, state standards with this fuzz as they ask for no more.
I'm of the school that says if you can't measure it then it doesn't exist. Have we reached a point that it is culturally unacceptable to do anything that isn't fuzzy? Am I working in a measurement resistant culture? To me, with my background, uncovering fuzziness is just an indicator that I need to do more work to expunge the fuzz. To my colleagues it seems like fuzziness is not a clue, it's an objective.
Please, just disabuse me of this if you think I've just had too much coffee, but I think it would be really interesting to find out if there has ever been a correlation study in education to see if it's true that "You get what you measure." From this anecdote it sure seems to have some truth to it.