Alfie Kohn on Why Numbers Trump Human Feedback in Education

Our ability to manipulate our world by using numerical data has led to some impressive acheivements as well as to some horrible developments, particularly when people get reduced to numbers and are treated as such. This has been happening for over a century in our schools and we've now reached a point where one's grade point average has become a shorthand for one's social worth in many situations.

Alfie Kohn has written a good rebuttal to this situation in school with this essay in Education Week: Schooling Beyond Measure. Here's a quote from the article to whet your appetite:

In education, the question "How do we assess kids/teachers/schools?" has morphed over the years into "How do we measure ... ?" We've forgotten that assessment doesn't require measurement, and, moreover, that the most valuable forms of assessment are often qualitative (say, a narrative account of a child's progress by an observant teacher who knows the child well), rather than quantitative (a standardized-test score). Yet the former may well be brushed aside in favor of the latter by people who don't even bother to ask what was on the test. It's a number, so we sit up and pay attention. Over time, the more data we accumulate, the less we really know.