Measure for Measure

Robert Crease, author of World in the Balance: The Historic Quest for an Absolute System of Measurement wrote a piece for The New York Times that appeared the other day, “Measurement and Its Discontents.” He notes that:

In his book “The Mismeasure of Man,” Stephen Jay Gould recounted the costs, both to society and to human knowledge, of the misguided attempt to measure human intelligence with a single quantity like I.Q. or brain size. Intelligence is fundamentally misapprehended when seen as an isolatable entity rather than a complex ideal. So too is teaching ability when measured solely by student test scores.

Crease divides measurement into two types, the ontic (measurement of things) and the ontological (Platonic ‘fitting’: does something ‘measure up’ to expectations).  We tend to confuse the two, especially in education, where we have come to imagine that standardized testing is measurement of a quantifiable thing.  But ‘knowledge,’ that ‘thing,’ is not quantifiable in the ontic sense, only the ontological… and answers on a test can’t satisfy that.  We are not, it seems, addressing the question Crease asks:

Are the tests administered by schools making students smarter and more educated, or just making us think we know how to evaluate education?

When we do look at it, and then at what is going on surrounding American education, we are forced to conclude it is just the latter.   

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