Support for Teachers from the Field of Medicine

At last someone has linked the problems of inappropriate use of testing in education with Doctorthose of the prestigious profession of medicine. Robert Wachter, Professor of Medicine at UCSF, has written a book titled The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age in which he argues that measurement has gotten out of hand. In a New York Times article “How Measurement Fails Us” (Sunday Review, Jan 17, 2016, p. 5) he states:

“Two of the most vital industries, health care and education, have become increasingly subjected to metrics and measurements. Of course, we need to hold professionals accountable. But the focus on numbers has gone too far.”

In the article Wachter notes that “burnout rates for doctors top 50 percent” and he says recent research has shown that “the electronic health record was a dominant culprit.” He then draws a parallel with teaching.

“Education is experiencing its own version of measurement fatigue. Educators complain that the focus on student test performance comes at the expense of learning.”

Wachter maintains that what is needed is “thoughtful and limited assessment.” “Measurement cannot go away, but it needs to be scaled back and allowed to mature. We need more targeted measures, ones that have been vetted to ensure that they really matter.” We also need to take account of the harm excessive measurement does. Again he compares the two professions: research has shown that

“In medicine, doctors no longer made eye contact with patients as they clicked away. In education, even parents who favored more testing around Common Core standards worried about the damaging influence of all the exams.”

With this welcome support, we in education need to consider how we can keep measurement within limits and focused on key matters, so it does not undermine our profession. When is measurement useful, and when does it do more harm than good?

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