Confessions of a Standard Setter: The Dehumanisation of Educational Mastery
Standards and measures have existed within our society for centuries. Indeed, the development of civilization required the establishment of common units. Magna Carta references the need for an equivalent "pint" of ale across the kingdom, and Muslim scholars of the Seventh century refer to the quality of a man being defined by the standardization of his trading practice. Within education and the professions, standards are commonplace. Students are required to master a given quantity of information in order to be considered successful. Educational concepts of mastery vary little from those established within the trades' apprenticeship system. Yet clear and important differences exist between the mastery of observable skills and the achievement of educational goals. The indirect measurement of scholastic skills poses the challenge of translation not encountered in the assessment of observable qualities. Standard setters within education must first establish the quality of content mastery desired and then in some fashion, translate that quality onto a quantitative scale. While certain differences appear superficially obvious, they may instead be illusory. Measurement scholars have developed countless ways to perform this translation activity. Since the 1950s however, these activities have become increasingly dependent upon the statistical operationalization of the process. More specifically, the statistical methods employed lack the credibility associated with the definition of a construct and the establishment of validity. Students are increasingly held accountable to standards that are unexplainable from the perspective of content. Our limited understanding results in expressions of learned material devoid of content mastery. Further, expressions of desired levels of achievement can vary wildly, depending upon the characteristics of those charged with the establishment of the standard. The present paper will explore the current state of educational standards, their sensibility, and the dehumanisation of a process that is a critical requirement for human society.
Keywords: Standards, Achievement, Mastery
Dr Gregory Ethan Stone
Assistant Professor, Foundations of Education Research and Measurement, The University of Toledo