The Tradition vs. Statistics War is Coming to Education

The most interesting non-hurricane story of the week has been the pushback by certain members of the political media establishment against Nate Silver’s election predictions. As Ezra Klein points out, at the heart of it is the conflict between traditional modes of analysis and statistical analysis. The traditional “come up with a theory and write about it” model of election prediction cannot coexist with one that strictly relies on statistical models. Only one method can be the best.

A similar conflict will eventually rock education. At the moment there is a large coalition that opposes relying on formal assessment data to evaluate student achievement. A lot of of the opposition stems from legitimate concerns with standardized tests, but within it you can sense the dedication to traditional methods of student evaluation. Many steadfastly believe that a teacher’s evaluation of a student (e.g. tests, homework, class participation, personal conversations, etc.) is the best measure of student achievement. They will not accept new people coming along and saying that state-mandated formal assessments are a better way.

The big battle has yet to take place because the statistics side still doesn’t have its act together. However, at some point people will create growth and value-added measures that are significant improvements. With many of the reasonable fears allayed, those who cling to traditional measures will be isolated in their opposition to statistical models. And then, as with political journalism, there will be a fight over who knows best.

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