"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Scorecards in Education

There are unfortunately two extremes in perception. On one hand, scores can mean everything. While for some, scores can be easily ignored. Nevertheless, numbers are amazing for these seem to feed our desire to see things quantitatively so we can easily compare. The problem with both extremes is that numbers are used improperly to reach unfounded conclusions in the former while the information that can be obtained is dismissed in the latter. For example, scores in international exams serve as a good gauge to compare basic education in math, reading and the sciences between countries. Poor performance in these tests diagnoses problems in early education since some of these tests are administered to fourth grade students. Using these scores to determine bonus pay to teachers is improper. This is taking the scores to mean everything. Sweeping poor scores under the rug likewise misses the important assessment purpose of these exams.

Schools cannot be rated in a simple way. This is a fact and it arises from the complex nature of education. The College Scorecard launched by the Obama administration is an example of a measure that places so much on a few numbers:


As an example, the following are the results one retrieves for Georgetown University (Date retrieved 7 August 2013):

The employment numbers are not available yet, but one gets the idea that the scheme is basically weighing only the financial aspect of a college education. There is no indicator here that deals with student satisfaction and the intangible values of a liberal and general education. Although employment data are not yet available, it is worrisome that such measure may be biased toward colleges that tend to send students directly into employment. There are colleges that instill a mission of service to others and therefore tend to send students into volunteer work and low paying jobs. There are colleges that also inspire students to do graduate work and these students usually take five to ten years before entering the employment force. College education should not really be reduced to how much one can earn after getting a degree. In addition, the College Scorecard uses an average number for costs, the average net price. This is the average cost a student pays after removing grants and financial aid. For Georgetown, the College Scorecard lists $26,500. The tuition alone at Georgetown currently for a full-time student is $44,000. The average number obviously does not provide information on how much an individual student on grant or financial aid needs to pay although it should be obvious that it is a lot less than $26,500.

Incidentally, a similar measure is being drafted in the Philippines. The BusinessWorld Online reports:

Here, the scorecard even has a stricter focus, students' performance in licensure examinations. One way to promote gaming a system is to place great importance on numbers. Licensure examinations, first of all, are very different from the international exams like TIMSS. In fact, some people make a living out of providing review for licensure examinations. This also focuses too much on one field as if college education is really a single track. I graduated from the Ateneo and I especially value the education I received in philosophy, theology, psychology, Philippine literature, and economics. And I did not take the licensure examination for chemistry. None of these would matter in this proposed measure....

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