Assessment Mania

Enough of the surveys! Enough of rating everything! And especially enough of tests and studies conducted or designed by “impartial outsiders.”

Today it seems as though any business or institution of any size is trying to assess, study, and measure its effectiveness in doing its job and meeting its goals, from Amazon to education, from big banking to start-ups not even off the ground. On top of that, supervisors and managers are flooding subordinates with emails wanting instant progress reports on a daily basis, if not sooner, and the amount of time spent on answering such largely pointless communications continues to rise.

One of the critical points that all these “assessors” in search of data and accountability seem either to ignore or to never have learned is that every minute and every dollar spent on assessment is a dollar or minute not spent on achieving the institution’s or business’s objectives, and more and more assessment inevitably leads to less and less real achievement, no matter what results appear to come from such additional assessments.

Education is becoming the poster child for excessive and counter-productive assessment. No matter what those proponents of great testing and assessments say, and no matter what statistics they cite, American education remains at a crisis point, because, particularly at the elementary and secondary levels, and even to a degree at the baccalaureate level in college, instructors are in point of fact essentially being forced not only to test more and more, but also to “teach to the test.” Add to that the fact that at the collegiate level, they also have to teach to “student evaluations.”

While the tests show a slight improvement in basic skills, what they do not show is the losses. The fact is that the majority of graduating high school seniors cannot write a logical, coherent, factually based, and grammatically correct paragraph. They cannot analyze anything with much complexity involved, and they cannot integrate data, skills, and knowledge. Nor can they apply skills learned in one area to problems in another.

These are not skills that can be accurately measured by any “objective” test, yet they are skills vital to the continued success of a high-tech society.

We’re also seeing similar problems in the political and media arenas, as Americans seem less and less able to integrate data and analyze all the sound bites they receive, many of which are factually incorrect, contradictory, and logically flawed. Businesses over-focus on immediate short term goals, all too often in opposition to what would insure greater long-term success, because success in meeting short-term goals can be far more accurately and quickly assessed.

Metaphorically speaking, we don’t need to kill all the lawyers, as Shakespeare’s King Henry VI asserted, but a good start would be decimating the assessors.

7 thoughts on “Assessment Mania”

  1. R. Hamilton. says:

    Number crunching requires some salesmanship on the the part of those offering the service, hopefully some skills on the part of those implementing the service…and absolutely no uniquely human talent on the part of those paying for the service.

    Nothing wrong with objective measurements IF one actually understands them. Something wrong with supposing that they will take the place of critical thinking, let alone actual management or even leadership.

  2. Daze says:

    The other place where assessment of everything is really problematic is in managing aid organisations and other charities. Donors want to know all sorts of statistics about how their money got spent: where, when, on who, gender balance, how much went on administration, and so on. But that last one (how much got spent on administration) can be seriously inflated by the cost of gathering all those statistics and sending out monitoring missions etc.

    1. R. Hamilton. says:

      True. But isn’t there a reason for it? When people buy goods or services for themselves, they have no difficulty determining whether they’re satisfied with value received. Absent that feedback, a donor wants some assurance they’ve chosen wisely where to put their charity dollars.

      I think most excesses – accountability, spending, regulation, etc – came about cumulatively, not necessarily because most of the parts were individually bad ideas. Periodic housecleaning would be useful, if disruptive.

  3. Wine Guy says:

    Most of the surveys I see are not true assessments: they’re more of a ‘please tell me how good I know I am’ type survey.

    And the ones that permit no nuance (‘Thumbs up’ vs ‘Thumbs down’) drive me to want to do violence to the website. Fortunately for the computer world, I can hack websites as well as I can breathe underwater.

    These days, I ignore 99% of them.

  4. Tim says:

    I can only agree. In regard to

    “The fact is that the majority of graduating high school seniors cannot write a logical, coherent, factually based, and grammatically correct paragraph”

    I would suggest instead that those people can, but cannot be bothered.

    That has been my experience of the equivalent in the UK.

    1. I fear your students are better prepared. A great many here cannot, even if their life depended upon doing so. That may well be because they couldn’t be bothered to learn.

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