Posted by: drewdice | September 21, 2012

You get what you measure

Connecting learning to performance.

More and more, organizations are making (have made) the shift away from learning programs and efforts that cannot be connected to tangible business outcomes. Makes sense, right? Companies should invest where they will get a healthy return.

So, trace that back to primary education. and the current movement of measuring teacher performance, in part, by student results on standardized testing.

I get the intent behind the movement – connect teacher performance to the performance (and, in theory, learning) of students. An unintended consequence, however, of this recent move is that teachers may be inclined to teach to produce the outcome of passing tests, not to help students learn to acquire knowledge needed to be properly prepared to thrive in today’s competitive global economy.

In my not-so-humble opinion, we need to consider the desired outcome, and then connect the systems, processes, measurements and incentives to align to those outcomes. In this case, I’m not sure we’ve accomplished that.



  1. Great point, Andrew. And who needs “humble opinions” anyway? As you’ve noted, we do get what we measure. But often we aren’t careful about the unintended behaviors we incentivize along the way. Intuitively, we think that if we focus on test scores, teachers will become better teachers and truly educate. The reality is they do what’s in their own self-interest and focus on the outcomes that affect them personally – the test score. So, they teach to the test, failing our children along the way.

    When developing metrics, leaders should carefully consider not only the desired business outcome, but the bad behaviors a focus on a particular metric might generate. There’s almost always something negative hidden in the weeds if we aren’t careful. Without a well thought out approach, we may hit the metric and find ourselves in the midst of a terribly sad, pyrrhic victory.

  2. Brenden, you are right on point. You know, I wonder about the use of big data to help with some of this – has to be a way to create predictive models that could provide reliable indicators of a student’s ability to perform as she progresses and gets in the ‘adult work world’. Based on those models, educational curricula could be mapped to equip students with the learning, skills, mindset and ability to perform. Then, teacher performance could be connected to their ability to equip the students. Much more relevant, I think, than mapping teacher performance to a student’s ability to memorize and pass a test

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