"We need a measurement . . . ."

Actually, that's the last thing these guys need or want.  The very notion of the possibility of useful measurement is under increasing attack, because it implies that someone has an identifiable goal and that he should be judged by whether he's achieved it, with inconvenient consequences if he has not.  Two recent examples, the first in the area of the border security:
[A]s the immigration debate has gathered speed, even border analysts who praise the Obama administration’s enforcement efforts have grown frustrated with the Department of Homeland Security’s reluctance to produce data to assess them.
House committee members were shocked earlier this week to hear testimony from that DHS can't predict when or if ever it will develop and reveal a useful measurement for whether it is controlling the border with Mexico:
For several years before 2010, border officials used a measure known as operational control to describe the level of security along the southwest line.  But in 2010, Ms. Napolitano said the department would drop that standard, arguing it did not reflect a substantial buildup of agents and detection technology in recent years, and it was insufficiently flexible to account for the varying terrain and fast-changing conditions along the nearly 2,000-mile southwest border, where most illegal crossings occur.
Nor has the White House exactly been helpful:
Obama administration officials said on Thursday that they had resisted producing a single measure to assess the border because the president did not want any hurdles placed on the pathway to eventual citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.
All of which sounds a lot like the long-simmering quarrels over public school testing.   In Rhode Island, there is a movement afoot to require all graduating high seniors to pass a proficiency test.  A student group objected that the test is too hard, or too unrelated to their curriculum, or both.   To prove it, they persuaded a group of reasonably successful adults, including some state senators, to take the test.  Sixty percent flunked, unable to achieve even a "partially proficient" score.  Does that mean the test is bad, or that the adults were ignorant?  Neither proposition was attractive, so the discussion veered into a familiar rut:
Students are trying to push back against the idea that a single test score can measure the entirety of a person’s value, worth, and future success by inviting objectively successful people to take the test themselves and see how they do.
. . . 
“I would much rather hire students who have the creativity and strategic thinking to pull together this effort in which 50 Rhode Island leaders will take this test than” students who sit in class and get prepared to pass “the NECAP with flying colors,” [said a senator who flunked]. 
“I think my takeaway message from this is that the test is not a good indicator of whether or not someone is going to be able to achieve academically,” she said.  “It’s not a good indicator, taken on its own, to be an indicator of academic achievement or career achievement.  And placing this barrier on our young men and women in our high schools without giving them the resources previously to ensure that they are going to succeed is just setting them up for additional failures.”
Another state senator, Adam Satchell, criticized standardized tests more generally, "arguing that a one-size-fits-all model cannot properly assess twenty-first century skills." Which are?
We’re trying to teach students twenty-first century skills--how to speak, how to use technology. That’s not what this test measures. It’s not an accurate measurement of our students.
It's a familiar complaint.  Somehow we're always designing tests, disliking the results, and arguing that they don't really measure the right thing, or that the tests are OK in their way but are being used for the wrong purpose, though it's not always easy to see what the right purpose would be and how it's different.  The Rhode Island students argue, for instance, that the standardized test under discussion for their school district was "explicitly not designed to be used to make decisions about individual students," which certainly would make it an odd test for the school district to have invested public money in.  Similarly, the border-security test now mysteriously doesn't quite measure border security:
In a recent interview, David V. Aguilar, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said he had first proposed the concept of operational control years ago when he was the chief of the Border Patrol.  He said it was meant to describe immediate conditions in limited patrol sectors, and he lamented that it had become the broadest measure of security advances across the entire border. 
“It was never meant to be applied that way,” Mr. Aguilar said.
I see only one solution.  Stop the testing.  Quit making the compensation of any state employees dependent in any way on the tasks they achieve, which only leads to bickering and resentment.  Fund border security according to a committee's estimate of the number of illegal border crossing that might have occurred under other conditions, using the models previously developed by AGW enthusiasts.  Fund schools on the basis of bums in seats, an easy metric. Better yet, since it's not their fault if the kids don't show up, pay them on the basis of citizens of school age with a pulse, whether or not they're in the classroom. In fact, to use the developing voting system as a guide, why require a pulse?


james said...

This sort of "you take the test too!" isn't a fair comparison.

The kids are being tested with the material fresh in their minds, presumably material designed to give a superficial overview of a number of different fields which they may need to learn more about later.

The middle-aged adult whose business has a branch in El Salvador probably knows more about micro-economics than all the HS teachers put together and knows El Salvador better than all but the natives. But he forgets where Bangor is--the superficial knowledge that doesn't get used gets dusty. I wouldn't bet that he's more ignorant, even if he doesn't pass the high school test.

He isn't even terribly specialized. He simply cannot spend the hours to keep learning in every single field he started in high school.

But I expect the high school student to remember what he was just told.

Texan99 said...

There are sample questions on the testing company's site. They weren't easy, but I could answer them all. It's been a while since high school. There was some kind of "box and whisper" statistical thing in there I'd never heard of, but I made a guess about how it worked that turned out to be correct.

I admit they were tougher than I expected for a GED. Still, what's wrong with deciding the test is too hard and using an easier one? The strange thing to me is the notion that the the test is bad because it doesn't measure the innate human worth of the kids. Who said it was supposed to? It's purpose is to measure some basic reading and math skills. If we don't think reading and math skills are important, why are we making kids go to school, and why are we paying a fortune to fund this mandatory exercise?

james said...

I started their math quiz. The first was trivial, but the second asked me to tell which region was relevant in the problem but the image was too small to read. When I magnified it, it goobered-up their paging scheme.

I agree that somebody is pretty confused about what tests are good for, and it isn't you or me.

Grim said...

Well, right. The tests weren't meant to establish whether individual students were really squared away. They were meant to evaluate whether the school as a whole was failing.

I take this to mean that they are raising the one issue as a distraction from the other.

RonF said...

Given the condition of Rhode Island's economy, infrastructure and budget, I figure " the adults were ignorant" is spot on.