The Treasure Hunter

A blog by Joanne Yatvin

Another Great Response

on January 21, 2016

Yesterday, when I posted several thoughtful and well-written responses to pieces that had appeared recently on my blog, I never expected to get a response to a response.  But I did; from Doug Garnett, a business expert.  Although he and Don Bellairs, a talented educator, disagree on the usefulness of metrics in education, I think they are both wise and reasonable in their opinions.  Below is Doug’s response, and if Don wishes to answer him further, I will post that, too.


Thanks, Don, for pointing out an issue for clarity. What I oppose is corporate style management of schools using high stakes standardized testing based metrics. I don’t think this sounds like a gun owner at all. But there’s a lot buried in that definition of what I oppose that didn’t come across clearly.

As an expert using metrics in marketing and business, I thoroughly endorse what you describe. The metaphor I use is that businesses want metrics to be a satellite image we can use to determine everything needed for success. In fact, we are explorers in St. Louis in 1840. We need to gather all the information (first hand accounts, maps, pieces of maps, theories, etc…) in order to make a wise journey into the wilderness and (hopefully) end up where we desire. Marketing is both an art and a science – and the science informs the art but is not complete by itself.

That sounds like how you use testing within the classroom — I thoroughly endorse that approach. In business, we make tremendous progress by using metrics as indicators that inform and guide our decisions. We fail when the metrics become the only thing considered.

You note you are looking for my reasoning “metrics are providing absolutes and will operate in a vacuum”. Excellent question. I’ll fill you in.

In your classroom, the metrics operate within context – you understand them in a rich environment and as just one of many indicators you use.

Once the metrics are published in the local paper, handed to state or federal legislators, are used as a political football, or adopted by a distant “philanthropical” foundation to justify their projects, they no longer live in a rich context – they are removed to the arid realm where only the metric matters. Now, distant from their true meaning, they are used with impunity to make big (high stakes) decisions about schools. (Don’t know if you’ve read about Campbell’s Law. But it describes the effect of this use of specific metrics.)

This is no different in corporations. In business what we see is that a good metric gets started by people who understand its strength and weakness and is very productive within their area. But at some point a politically motivated executive adopts that metric and it becomes a part of a high level “dashboard”. Then the game begins – where hitting metric targets is more important than company health. (Usually metric targets come with big bonuses making the game even more of a problem.) Suddenly, the metric means nothing.

Back to education: I want my sons to be able to communicate in writing. I presume you use metrics in the classroom to help judge their progress on the path to communicating in writing. But at the state and federal level, standardized test scores (which do NOT effectively evaluate communication – only tools that are part of writing) are presumed to be the ultimate judge of school success. Legislators lack the subtlety to understand, for example, what the metric does NOT measure and presume it is a complete summary of the topic.

Making massive spending and program choices based on this partial knowledge without rich understanding of of the context always leads to failure. Hence, my absolute sense of the topic.

I hope this makes a bit more sense. 🙂




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