Show Me What You Measure in Your School, and I’ll Tell You What You Value

Show me what you measure in your school, and I’ll tell you what you value. I’ve written about related topics in the past, but this post at the Acton Academy Middle School Blog brought me back to the subject of measurement in education. As frequent readers know, I’m outspoken about the dangers and distraction of measurement and testing in modern education. I compare it to the modern obsession with taking pictures. Sometimes I find myself and see others more concerned about pulling out the phone and taking a picture of something interesting more than actually enjoying or experiencing it. We are capturing and storing what happens, but sometimes at the risk of removing ourselves from it. This is the state of measurement in education.

We measure more than ever in our schools. We have careful records of student coursework, cumulative grade point average, a myriad of test scores, retention rates, and all sorts of other things. People can give you their best arguments for the importance of what they measure. GPA is a strong predictor of future success, they argue. Test scores help us measure the effectiveness of our academic programs. As we do such things, the measurements themselves become the center of attention. We make entry into to National Honor Societies primarily a celebration of a certain GPA, as if that is the most important sign of “outstanding” students (part of the NHS mission statement). We we find ourselves building programs around raising numbers instead of achieving real goals, amplifying values, or more effectively living out our missions in learning communities.

Yet, measurement is useful. We tend to measure (even if informally and qualitatively) what is important to us. We pay attention to and track our progress when something is a high priority. This is even true in our most important relationships. As such, I’ve come to believe that there are two quick ways for me to get a sense of what is most important to a learning organization. Just let me see the line items in their budget and a list of what they measure on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis. Those two sources of data give a good, albeit not complete, sense of priorities.

This is why I was so delighted (but not surprised) to read the Middle School Acton Academy blog post entitled “How Healthy is Your Tribe.” In it, the author provided a simple but useful data visualization based upon something so important to the school community that they measure it. It is a map that represents how close learners (or Eagles as they call them at Acton) feel to one another. Why would they measure something like this? It is because they value community? They value it as something independently and inherently good, but also because they know that a robust and positive community is also incredibly conducive to student growth and learning.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we paid more attention to measuring such things in all of our schools? What if we were more occupied with measuring student connectedness and positive attributes of community than some of the test scores that consume thoughts and efforts? I can say with confidence that we would have a better, more hopeful, more humane, and ultimately more empowering educational ecosystem.

What do you measure in your learning community and why? What do these measurements say about your school’s values and priorities?