Gene Glass Gives Up on Psychometrics, Explains Danger of Test-and-Punish

Gene Glass is a seasoned professor of education—an expert in psychometrics, the science of measuring—who recently explained Why I am No Longer a Measurement Specialist.

Glass’s late career shift is a principled decision: “In the last three decades, the public has largely withdrawn its commitment to public education.  The reasons are multiple: those who pay for public schools have less money, and those served by the public schools look less and less like those paying the taxes.  The degrading of public education has involved impugning its effectiveness, cutting its budget, and busting its unions.  Educational measurement has been the perfect tool for accomplishing all three: cheap and scientific looking.”

In other words, Glass is tired of affiliating with the segment of educational academia that has created the tests used by cynical politicians and ideologues to justify blaming the schools that serve other people’s children along with the simultaneous underfunding of these schools.

Glass explains that after he was given an award for his 1966 dissertation, he was hired as a psychometrician by a major university. “Psychometrics,” he writes, “promised to help build a better world.  But twenty years later, the promises were still unfulfilled.  Both talent and tasks were too complex to yield to this simple plan. Instead, psychometricians grew enthralled with mathematical niceties.”

Then in 1980, Glass served for a time on the committee that governs the National Assessment of Education Progress, the test administered without any school identifiers or punitive consequences.  It is used to measure overall trends in American student achievement over time.  Glass reports, “The project was under increasing pressure to ‘grade’ the NAEP results: Pass/Fail; A/B/C/D/F; Advanced/ Proficient/Basic.  Our committee held firm: such grading was purely arbitrary, and worse, would only be used politically.”

But, of course, standardized testing has acquired political consequences over the years—culminating in the punitive test-and-punish federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2002 and the Obama Race to the Top Program and NCLB waivers that have mandated that states use students’ standardized test scores to evaluate their teachers.

Glass concludes: “When measurement became the instrument of accountability, testing companies prospered and schools suffered.  I have watched this happen for several years now.  I have slowly withdrawn my intellectual commitment to the field of measurement.  Recently I asked my dean to switch my affiliation from the measurement program to the policy program.  I am no longer comfortable being associated with the discipline of educational measurement.”

In the book Glass co-authored last year with long-time educational researcher, David Berliner, 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten American Public Education, the reader can see Glass and Berliner’s discontent with the way psychometrics is being manipulated by politicians to evaluate school teachers: “President Obama’s recent school reform initiative, Race to the Top, adds yet another seemingly sensible, but actually reprehensible, policy to the list of pressures on teachers…. One of the stipulations of the RTTT grant was that states had to implement a merit pay system based, in significant part, on student achievement scores.  States also are encouraged to base other personnel decisions (e.g. retention, tenure, termination, etc.) on student growth data… Most states have adopted a value-added measurement (VAM) method to statistically measure teacher performance based on student test scores.  VAMs are designed to measure student growth from year to year by controlling for non-teacher influence, such as student social class standing or English language competency.  But a host of other variables that are known to affect the growth of classroom achievement in any one year are totally unaccounted for.” (50 Myths & Lies, pp. 58-59)

Glass begins his recent column, “I was introduced to psychometrics in 1959. I thought it was really neat.”  Most of us don’t find the details of statistical measurement and control of variables “really neat.” We are paying the price for our own inattention to the details as politicians have sold us this latest bottle of snake oil. Gene Glass knows a lot about this arcane subject. We ought to listen to him as he gives up what he expected would be his lifelong calling.

5 thoughts on “Gene Glass Gives Up on Psychometrics, Explains Danger of Test-and-Punish

  1. Jan, this is another great one. We are intoxicated by the idea that you can measure and rank things like learning when you can’t. I still am angry with Mark Tucker for pushing the idea that we should standardize learning through defined outcomes because that just invited measurement.  What a mess.Susie

  2. “In the last three decades, the public has largely withdrawn its commitment to public education” this is also evident in “social impact bonds” such as were used in a trial at Rikers Island. Independent King of Maine said it this way when the “privatization” with Goldman Sachs didn’t work: “this is an admission that government isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.” (Angus King cited in Governing from Congressional hearing)

  3. I agree, it’s “on the cheap”; and it makes the appearance of doing something all the time politicians stating clearly “we don’t want those immigrants” or people of colors… That is the hideous aim behind this whole mess.

  4. “pushing the idea that we should standardize learning through defined outcomes because that just invited measurement.” from the medical field: ” pay for performance [for doctors} is difficult to measure to determine if it achieves the desired efficiencies. Health outcomes among patients of safety- net providers are notoriously difficult to manage for example because of challenges in other aspects of their lies, such as employment, housing etc.” Yet they tell us it is all the teacher’s fault and say poverty and racial segregation in housing etc don’t count when they want to look at achievement “gaps”…..
    (quote is drawn from journal Governing- – on the medical studies and the privatization through hedge funds at Rikers.

  5. Pingback: Arne Duncan’s Misguided Policies | janresseger

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