Why We’re Changing the Assessment Business

Tom GibbonsChange, Rant2 Comments

Another post in the ‘rant’ category….. not too many of these but sometimes you’re just angry and need to express it!

It seems like it should be easy in the books, the speeches and keynotes, the workshops and workbooks.  It should be easy if we could only be good enough to do what ‘they’ tell us to do.  The ‘8’ steps to successful change, the ‘5’ keys to financial freedom, the ‘7’ habits that will make us a great leader and all those endless best practices that someone or some company has done that make them all that we should want to be.

And when it’s not that easy we so easily feel guilt or shame or lay blame.  This trinity of related curses seems so embedded in our organizations today you can almost see people ducking, wincing and looking for cover from those lashing out with the whip of blame.  I’m reminded of the Tori Amos lyric; ‘Got enough guilt to start my own religion’…

The assessment business readily contributes to this debilitating pattern, in it’s oh so soft and well intentioned way.  The pattern is that of expert telling the ‘lesser ones’ what they should do, what is happening in their lives and what they should do about it all so they can be ‘better’.  And it all seems so easy.

Well it’s not.  If it was there would only be one book on our bookshelves, one keynote speech and one piece of curriculum in our L&D plans.  And we’d all be so, so happy.

It’s not just the assessment business that perpetrates this pain but it is the one we’re changing. We’re changing it by decreasing the traditional role of ‘expert facilitator’ and increasing the role of the end user in using and making sense of their own data.  We’re changing it by decreasing the importance of event learning and increasing the importance of process design.

And it’s not easy.

Being an assessment expert in a learning event is like taking a big dose of some upper, without the needle.  And being the participant in this dynamic is not much different, you just hope it’s good stuff they’re selling you and if it’s not you’ll just find another dealer.  The weird thing is that you’re never addicted to the content of this dynamic, you’re addicted to the dynamic itself! And the dynamic produces what almost seems like an addiction to guilt, shame and blame.

So that’s why we’re changing the assessment business.  The dynamic of expert feeding the less privileged needs to change. It’s time to change the all too often day to day degradation of people’s lives in organizations by this dynamic.  We happen to be in the assessment business so we can change there.  There is a good chance if you’re reading this, you’re in some way in the assessment business too.  And you can change this business as well.

Author: Tom


2 Comments on “Why We’re Changing the Assessment Business”

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your concerns. I have had them for a very long time myself. With the rise of NCLB, as a school district administrator, I saw a rise of “fly-by-night” testing companies pop up promising that their formative assessments would impact learning. And when I dug further into one of our vendor’s claims, I realized that their validity evidence was weak, there were no external reviews of the items and claims that their assessments predicted future performance on state assessments were based on simple correlations. Their sample was not stratified by initial ability levels. I don’t think the vendors appreciated that obtaining consistently high correlations when analyzing the sample as a whole does not suggest improved learning over time, it actually suggests no learning has taken place. So I share your indignation. It gives the industry a very bad name.

  2. I very much appreciate your comment Li-Ann. I visited your LinkedIn page and noted your significant experience in this area. It seems you work with assessments in very sensitive and important contexts. I would be interested in your thoughts on a post I did related to this topic about a year ago if you had the time and interest to consider it – https://tmsamericas.wpengine.com/2014/11/personality-prediction-slippery-slope/ – I wonder how you deal with questions about assessments that people may see as highly valuable and relevant and yet you know from a research perspective the assessment cannot live up to the claims being made about it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.