Measurement Tension: Can the Push for Accountability Corrupt the Data?

Can the push for accountability corrupt the data?

When evaluation becomes too heavily weighted toward accountability, argue leaders in the field, measurable outcomes can not only mislead, but corrupt. People will teach to the test. “What gets measured gets done,” said one evaluator. In a famous essay, “The Experimenting Society,” Donald T. Campbell, one of the pioneers of modern evaluation of social programs, cites a litany of such abuse: the U.S. war on crime between 1968 and 1971 got results by downgrading the seriousness ofrecorded incidents. More recently, the outcomes-based accountability approach of the No Child Left Behind law has led to cheating by some principals and superintendents. The Houston school district showed a reduction in dropouts by changing how the statistic was calculated.

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This takeaway was derived from Making Measures Work for You.