(Broken) Promises of Performance Measurements 1

What I want to look at in my last post are the normative conceptions of performance and performance measurement that have been and those that have not been expressed until now. But how to analyze that? As the overarching aim of this project was to ‘break up’ our understanding of institutional normality and to detect how institutions culturally and nationally differ, it is somewhat a methodical question how to grasp and analyze each-others taken-for-granted and therefore seldom explicitly articulated ideas.

Taking a little loop-way, I will start with the criticism that has been expressed so far by the American students about performance measurement. For criticizing, you need to draw on some normative ideal – that it is not functional, not fair, not effective, not… These underlying values I want to discuss: What does performance as an organizing principle promise and – in turn –what broken promises can you criticize it for?

A criticism (found here) I want to start with is that the measurement and standardized testing are not effective, that they don’t do what they should: “We have not only failed to improve, but in many cases, in the thirteen years since we have implemented “No Child Left Behind” and the accompanying standardized tests, we have actually slipped in global test scores.” The values and promises addressed by the author are international competition and the improvement in performance. Measurement becomes here in a normative understanding a device not only for control, but for learning; the assessment of a status quo is strongly connected with the thought of growth. The underlying ideal here is progress: the idea that stagnation or regress is not the ‘normal’ direction in which a development of a country or an individual should go.

On the same lines argues another blogpost, it shares the idea of PM as a tool for improvement, learning and progress and claims that PM as it is conducted right now is inefficient: “If anything needs to be changed, it is the incessant emphasis on collecting data and evidence. I believe those two practices are beneficial. However, unless we are devoting the right amount of time to analysis of the data, and implementation of remedial efforts to fix what was found in the data, we are just creating a lot of documents.” So the author is of the opinion that performance is something that can be measured and the measurement’s task is to correct or “fix” the flaws and weaknesses found.

One main point of criticism in this blogpost is that the pupil’s achievement is now taken into account when evaluating teachers and thereby addressing the value of the individualist principle of performance – that effort and output are something that lies completely in your own hands. The criticism focuses the operational level, and argues that measurement is based on the wrong basis (aka not your own performance) for determining a teacher’s performance. Another point of the same article is that “This rating […] can determine anything from if you are going to continue teaching to possibly receiving a financial bonus.”, criticizing the massive outreach and impact PM can have on people’s life as too high and unfair. What really got me about this is that there seems to be a different dimension other than performance shining through, a normative conception that goes beyond the principle of performance – even though not explicitly expressed, the author seems to be of the opinion that other things than performance should be put into consideration when distributing financial bonuses or deciding over your future career. But which things could that be? That you are in need of it more than others? That you have children or a family to provide for? That you have long been in the same organization? (Within this implicit dimension really interesting questions pop up, I think).

Another value mentioned was the wellbeing, the physical and psychological health of children: A comment to the article says that “I think we as a society must take a real look at how tests affect the students well-being. I have personally experienced students hyper-ventilating, becoming sick to their stomachs”, addressing the inhuman means and pressure with the testing of students.

All in all the students addressed very different dimensions of institutions and normative ideas connected with performance and performance measurement: progress, competition, learning or being individually responsible for your life. Criticism was mainly based on the manner and method of the measurement part and therefore was directed at an operational level, the “How”. It was said that the way it is conducted it affects students wellbeing and that it was not effectively done.

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