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Thursday, June 30, 2016

In Terms of Assessment, Teachers Know Best | Education Week



Jessica Potts, teaches online history and English middle school courses at The Davidson Academy and Skip Potts,Skip Potts, director of The Language House writes, "It seems as if no discussion of America's educational climate is complete without the mention of Carol Dweck's concept of "growth mindset" and Angela Duckworth's notion of "grit." Along with the fervor surrounding these buzzwords comes the inevitable calls for some sort of quantifiable measurement of these largely intangible characteristics." 

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And although both Dweck and Duckworth largely disavow the notion of measuring these intangible skills, their respective websites offer a visitor the opportunity to test these soft skills. And in the past three years alone, hundreds of academic articles have been written about growth-mindset and grit skills, including in Education Week.

Forgetting for a moment the larger debate about the validity or newness of some of these "innovations," their measurement specifically should be looked at with a critical eye. Growth mindset and grit are understandably difficult to measure using standardized methods and instead often rely on Likert-style self-reporting. As some critics have noted, such surveys can be muddy and vulnerable to biases. The 2012 Program for International Student Assessment results place American schoolchildren 27th in math and 20th in science but far above average in confidence, suggesting that self-reporting as a method is inherently problematic, particularly in the United States. In fact, many of the psychological measures currently used are unreliable and subject to reference bias, confirmation bias, and social-desirability bias. Therefore, if we do want to find viable ways to evaluate grit or mindset, where do we look for our solutions?

In this age of educational accountability, the knee-jerk reaction is for policymakers to measure these delicate values through some type of box-checking scheme. Before we discuss the potential of this particular endeavor, it would be instructive to examine historical attempts to translate natural human behaviors into mechanical, quantifiable systems. Consider the famous walking robots of Boston Dynamics. Boston Dynamics, an MIT-spawned company that focuses on robotics and human-simulation software, attempted to create a robot that could effectively mimic the human gait. This company, which employed the brightest minds of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, and later bought by Google. It had all the money, intelligence, and support it could possibly need, and it still took more than a decade to get its first real success with the BigDog robot in 2005.
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Source: Education Week


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