Measurement in education: indispensable and impossible

Measurement in education: indispensable and impossible

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September 14, 2022 | Higher education depends to a large extent on the results of measurement; Not only in the study progress of students, but also in the comparison of institutions and study programmes. What does measuring the quality of education and education itself do? Scientists from VU warn about the flaws of the measurements and the weaknesses of the people who have to use them.

Bertram Trost, Mitter and van der Kolk at the table in Bacchus de Zweger.

At Pakhuis de Zwijger, who organized a meeting on Measurement in Education in collaboration with VU, three scholars from VU attended: Barend van der Kolk, Associate Professor and author of ‘De Meetmaatschappij’, Jerdian Bertram Trost, Professor of Education from a Philosophical and Educational Perspective, and Martin Mitter Professor Educational sciences.

Measurement leads to simplification, indicators and competition

Before the discussion among scientists, van der Kolk emphasized that the measurement has at least three important consequences. First, it reduces the complexity of reality, for example if one wants to gauge which university is the best, as is often the case Categories is happening. Reducing an entire university, which is made up of different universities, departments, research and teaching groups, to a single position or degree – it should at least lead to a critical look. “Quantification often means simplification,” says van der Kolk.

The second consequence of measurement is the so-called ‘indicators’, which van der Kolk explains by saying that ‘measurement’ in education essentially leads to ‘knowledge’. Once someone knows they are being measured, they will respond to it. This also makes the “measurement” “effective”, which can cause the student to focus primarily on an indicator (eg a good score) and lose sight of the actual goal (good and learn a lot). Pointers, that is.

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He cited Rutgers College of Business in the United States as a stark example, likes to be high in the world Employment Rankings They wanted them to create fake jobs for their graduates. The more important it is classification The closer, van der Kolk says, the higher the chance of pointers.

The third problem with measurement is the competition that makes this possible. If you measure two things, you can put them against each other, for example students’ scores, so that they are in constant competition with each other. “It can affect collective well-being and distract from what’s really important,” van der Kolk said.

How do you know what to measure and how to measure it?

According to pedagogical scientist Mitter (nomen est omen) It can be concluded on the basis of the metrics that Dutch education is not doing any better than it did about twenty years ago. How do we know? by measuring. But how do we measure that? “We have very good measuring tools for things that we’ve considered important for a long time, like being able to read and calculate well,” Mitter said. “We’ve also developed reasonably good metrics for something we’ve also come to consider important over time, like bullying.” In general, these measures give a very reasonable picture of the quality of education, he believes.

Bertram Trost has made serious comments on this argument. “The assumption is already in the question; what is quality? It is now presented as something huge and identifiable, but what we consider important can change in composition over time – for example as the role of education changes. There was a time when we were able to define occupations for which people were trained very clearly, but this framework has changed, which also changes the answer to the demand for “quality” education.”

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So what is the role of education in the Netherlands? Bertram Trost said there is no consensus on this, although there are prevailing opinions. The audience in the room endorsed this statement by recounting the well-known “habituation – socialization – submission” tradition of educator Gert Pista. As someone who already shares three goals, the next question is how to visualize this, and that’s exactly where the difficulty lies, according to Bertram Trost.

split in human deficiency

Van der Kolk was also less optimistic about the possibility of correctly mapping education through measurements. “The example of bullying reminds me of a cartoon in which a car’s speedometer malfunctions at 67 km/h. “Why is this true?” Someone asks the car owner. “Speed ​​is measured only once a year,” that is the answer. So it can be with bullying You can try to measure it, but that result says nothing about the real state of things. That’s how you work with measurement. You try to give as much information as possible, but there are always elements that you’re missing.”

The flag was then pulled into a dilemma due to two human flaws. Mitter defended the importance of measurement despite objections. People are very shortsighted. He argued that we see essentially what we want to see. Therefore, measurement is a corrective mechanism for this human deficiency.

Bertram Trost also recognized this value, just to make people aware of this weakness and to make them more sensitive to measurement results. At the same time, she emphasized that measurement results inevitably lead to people measuring each other. “We humans are not good at looking impartially, for example, at a test result. We immediately start comparing and evaluating.”

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Sometimes the degree is more fair

In keeping with his earlier arguments, Mitter highlighted another important aspect of measurement: Sometimes numbers are more reliable than professional judgments. For this he used the example of drag and pick for medicine. “When the lottery is drawn, you should have as many as possible and everyone with a large number has a chance to enter. When this lottery was canceled and universities had to put in place selection procedures, firstly, it seemed that young people from disadvantaged families were no longer registered and secondly that selection committees selectively My chief is young people who have doctors in their family.”

Therefore, the acceptance was not based on numbers, but on the basis of relationships. And that’s a lot more unfair, and therefore a lot worse, according to Mitter. “It is inevitable that people will have prejudices, but at least they make the rules. Once those rules are made, prejudices play a much less role.”

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