I love numbers. Call me crazy. I love their organization and simplicity. I have always loved studying math because at the end of a given problem there was a correct answer, and if you didn’t get it, it was because you did something wrong. Once you fixed the error, your answer would be correct!
I also love people. I love their complexity and their unpredictability. I was once told there are two kinds of people in the world: the people you like, and the people you don’t know. I love learning about people—their histories, their motivations, and their dreams.
To many, these two interests seem incompatible. Individuals who are fascinated by studying people typically dislike numbers, and the people who like numbers often avoid other people.
I enjoy both. In particular, I enjoy using numbers to discover the patterns in human behaviors. I enjoy the challenge of doing so as accurately as possible. I also enjoy understanding the motivations and decisions that empower people to rise above the normal patterns – to do something different or better. As a result, I have pursued a career in education research and measurement.
Often today’s discussions about tests and measures in education turn into heated discussions about student achievement, teacher and school accountability, promotion, tenure, termination, etc. Ultimately, the goals of the research and practice communities are the same—to improve education for students.
While most onlookers see these two camps of researchers and practitioners as pitted against each other, in reality their seemingly opposing views improve both measurement research and practice. Measures have been developed to help practitioners identify areas for improvement, expanding opportunities for teaching and learning. Practitioners’ voiced concerns of fairness, equity, and transparency have motivated improvement in research and measurement.
For a long time, teacher effectiveness measures were used superficially or for terminating an especially horrible teacher. There was little information on the quality of the teaching occurring in classrooms except by whether a teacher was still around or not. With more recent developments in teacher evaluation systems, information can be gathered for teachers and school leaders on how teachers are developing and what areas need improvement. For example, teachers are rated on more specific elements of their teaching (such as behavior management, classroom climate, or critical thinking) rather than being given an overall global rating.
But the new systems are not perfect yet. There are still concerns from teachers and school leaders about the fairness, feasibility and usefulness of these systems. As the teaching community continues to ask for more objective, feasible and useful measures (and policies, but that’s another topic for another day) that focus on improvement and progress in their practice, the research community is responding with revisions and innovations to improve these measures. As the measures improve in providing specific and meaningful feedback to teachers, teachers can learn better how to improve the teaching and learning that occurs in their classrooms. The improvement of one sparks the improvement of the other in a lovely, upward spiral.
I believe in education. I believe in progress. I believe in change. I believe in the power of information, numeric or anecdotal, in empowering well-informed decisions. I believe in doing something different, something better in education for a student, a class, a school, a district and a nation.
Progress is the end game, individually and collectively, and I believe it’s the combination of numbers and an ability to understand the needs of individuals that will enable greater change in all levels of education.