Friday, July 21, 2006

put to the test

Does Measurement Measure Up?
John M. Henshaw

An engineer and teacher with wide-ranging interests and a vivid style, Henshaw is the ideal candidate to bring the logic of measurement to the masses. GPS, S&P, ETS, AVG, IQ, DNA, MRI: Henshaw connects them in a way that makes sense. Learn the origin of the overhead projector. Learn why "weighted averages" are a crock. Most important, learn why humans are so fond of dubious measurements--85% of us are in love with them, according to my research.

Since this is a blog about education and politics, rather than a detailed summary, I'll quote a passage that stood out to me.
... one of the most difficult adjustments of going back to school was taking written tests again. As the clock ticked away while I desperately tried to solve some intractable math problem on my first test in graduate school, I remember thinking how contrived it all seemed. Only a few weeks earlier, I had been a respected engineer, making daily decisions that affected quality, safety, productivity, and profitability. How did I make those decisions? Certainly not by going into a room all by myself, cutting myself off from all sources of information except what was between my ears, and scribbling furiously on a clean sheet of paper for a rigidly defined (and always too short) period of time (p. 105).
Henshaw goes on to describe the tension that all teachers feel about grading and testing, fitting students into narrow expectations while still trying to instill a love of learning. Which isn't measurable. "At least, not yet."

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