Thursday, July 16, 2015

Scorecards: What's right for education?

ProPublica recently unveiled a new Surgeon Scorecard website.

On this website you can look up a score for over 17,000 surgeons for surgeries performed in eight common elective surgeries.

For surgeons who performed at least 50 operations each, 750 did not record a single complication in the five years covered by the analysis. Another 1423 had only one reported complication.

Knowing a surgeon's track record is fairly important. It could literally be a matter of life and death.

But do the numbers really show what they suggest they show? ProPublica provided some reviews and comments on their findings. As you might imagine some believed this scorecard was a positive development, others believed it was "not valid."

And there my friends is, in a nutshell, the crux of the debate about school and teacher scorecards. Parents want to know if a school or if a teacher is effective. People like me want to know if schools and teachers are effective.

Bridge, a website from The Center for Michigan, published their Academic State Champs report which encouraged parents to compare schools and districts. My district fell in the "exceeding expectations" category but was not declared a "state champ."

The Mackinac Center publishes a Michigan High School Context and Performance Report Card. This scorecard purports to take into account not only test scores but also socioeconomic factors.

Heck, the state of Michigan even publishes a Top-to-Bottom Ranking.

What's a parent to do?

What's a school administrator to do?

What's a teacher to do?

Education is important. Trying to determine if a school and the teachers and administrators in the school are educating the students entrusted to their care is, I would argue, very important. Knowing if our schools, teachers, and administrators are doing their job is worth finding out.

But that is where the trouble starts.

Scorecards and rankings can create algorithms based on test scores and socioeconomic factors. Scorecards and rankings can slice and dice the reported results in a hundred different ways.

But the scorecards and rankings don't tell you what goes on in those schools.

Are students happy?
Do teachers treat students well?
Are administrators supporting teachers and working with parents in meaningful and productive ways?
Is there joy inside the walls of that school, inside the walls of a classroom?

Scorecards and rankings can measure whether students are doing well on tests.

What they can't measure is the spirit of those who attend and those who work in the school.

I understand that the most important part of a school is not whether students are happy or valued or joyful.

But those things are important.

And a true measure of a school will take those things into account.

Scorecards and rankings don't show whether or not students like school or if teachers care about students.

I have mixed emotions about scorecards and rankings. It is important to know whether or not a surgeon or a teacher is good at their job.

The question is what do we measure to figure that out?