The Problem With "Measure"


One of the biggest blessings in my life is my marriage. I love my wife.

When I dislocated my knee (twice!), I experienced pain.

I react with anger when confronted with injustice.

Joy warms my entire being when my daughter slips her hand into mine as we walk.

With some thought and effort, I could describe my love, pain, anger, and joy. I could even express the intensity of those feelings, but I can’t measure them. My wife is pretty good at assessing my frustration, and my doctor does her best to assess my pain as she seeks to alleviate it and diagnose its cause.

But neither of them are engaging in measurement.

Measurement requires a standard unit, a recognized standard that can be objectively applied in a context. I can measure my bike ride to school in units of length. If I share that measurement with my colleague who also bikes to school, we can objectively determine who travels the greatest distance each day. What isn’t measurable is the peace that twenty minute ride brings to my day.

When it comes to measurement, learning fits into the same category as love, pain, anger, joy, and peace of mind. Learning can’t be objectively measured. There is no standard unit of measurement to apply to learning. A skill can be demonstrated, progress can be noted, understanding can be communicated and shared, but technically this evidence of learning isn’t measurable.

As a teacher I have been moving away from traditional grading because I recognized the limitations of grades in motivating, communicating, and promoting learning. Part of that journey has included using standards-based learning and grading and prioritizing meaningful learning over the measurement of learning. Since I’ve been hanging out with the TG² crew, however, I have been reflecting on the power and importance of the language that we use in our conversations about education.

I wrote the post linked above less than a year ago, but now I feel the word “measure” is fatally flawed when applied to learning. I moved to SBL/SBG to shift attention from grades to learning. I think it is arguably an improvement over traditional grades because it can more clearly communicate learning. However, I hadn’t used SBG long before I realized words like “measure” and “accurate” were popping up in conversations with colleagues and parents. The problem with words like “measure” and “accurate” is that they aren’t about learning; they are about grades.

I am not reimagining my classroom, structures, and practices in order to produce more accurate grades! I want to better nurture learning. The danger of using measurement language when discussing learning is that we are perpetuating the very system we seek to reform. I have no desire to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic or improve the aesthetics of our scoreboards.

So, what language should we use instead? For now I’m using “communication” language to share learning with students and parents. What might happen if we replaced the word “measure” in our conversations with “treasure?” Imagine a world where learning wasn’t measured, but rather, like love and joy and peace, treasured.

Scott Hazeu teaches and learns with Grade 12 students in the center of Canada. They spend their days exploring literature and writing. Discover more of his writing on Medium and Re-Vision: The Continuing Education of a Teacher.