#PLENK2010 Assessment as Proxy

I like Stephens’s notion that tests are used as proxies (see the very first post of this week). This is particularly true when also the subject matter to be learned is just a proxy for the capabilities needed later.

In the past when the “Nuremberg funnel” mechanisms of stuffing content into students’ heads were not yet very sophisticated, the capability to learn a lot of subject matter was a good proxy for the capability to learn the real important stuff later. The chaotic teaching of professors who had no clue of how to mediate content, led us students to developing skills of self-directed learning. So the teaching of useless stuff was useful for learning how to learn. Learning of relevant competencies worked only indirectly, not by transmission but by induction. And assessing the memorized content was a fair proxy of assessing the induced capabilities that were really important later.

The problem is when we forget about the indirectness, and think that the content is the true value, and optimize and maximize the content and throughput through the funnel. Then measuring the memorized subject matter is no longer an indicator for expectable later success, no longer a proxy for valuable learning.

Jenny reminded us that “assessment has such an impact on so many people’s lives”. Therefore we need to be aware of when we are assessing proxies rather than the real learning that has an impact on people’s lives.

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4 Responses to #PLENK2010 Assessment as Proxy

  1. Howard says:

    Hey Matthias;
    Good thoughts; great post!
    One addition – I believe that all measures / assessments are proxies and abstractions. There is no measure of real learning (if it’s an abstraction). That’s why validity judgements are necessary to judge how well the proxy results are serving their intended use and are used in a way that’s fair to those being measured. Assessment is important. All goals imply a measure, but, I believe, we should never confuse the measure with the “real” thing.
    Also, similar thoughts as those you’ve expressed have led me to start rethinking the purposes and the pedagogy of both K-16 education and lifelong learning. Do you have any thoughts on how to move from a major focus on content to a major focus on capabilities (and maybe maturity too). 🙂

  2. x28 says:

    Thank you, Howard. Your question is difficult. To move away from content, would probably mean to move away from too much focus on validity/ exactness/ justice of measurement (which are greater for content assessments), towards a little more trust.

  3. Chris says:

    Great point about assessments being proxies and the importance of remembering their limitations. The fact that many businesses continue to pay more for people with a university degree leads me to believe that it is at least a somewhat useful proxy for how good they will be at their jobs. Some of the incompetent degreed people I’ve dealt with reminds that it is also an imperfect one. A degree plus 2 references from previous employers plus a good interview plus checking out the Facebook page plus a 3-month internship would be an even more accurate proxy.
    I think you may be right about the trend towards teaching and assessing the wrong things. Very likely, the lack of anything better has spoiled universities. As long as there was no better measure out there, we could charge a lot for a degree. If businesses and others can easily assess a person’s attributes with a quick internet search revealing how others feel about him, his accomplishments, and his collected contributions too MOOC discussions, our degrees won’t be as valuable. For both educational and financial reasons, educators need to figure out what is important and how to get as close to measuring it as possible.

  4. Susan Grigor says:

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

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