A Moral Quandry Around Better Measurement

Three of my recent articles (listed below) form a kind of a progression that tells a larger story, beginning from the Fisher and Stenner (2013) connection with the history of science. With its focus on causality, Stenner, Fisher, Stone, and Burdick (2013) picks up where that first article leaves off, and the Fisher (2013) article sees formative assessment unfolding into predictive causal theory, standardized metrics, and a new capacity for total quality management in education.

A moral issue that comes up in the context of this progression concerns what it means to cling to methods in psychology and the social sciences that systematically preclude (a) thorough theoretical understandings of our constructs; (b) the emergence of shared languages for communicating those constructs’ structures, processes, and outcomes; and (c) the application of proven approaches to quality improvement in education. Because that is what currently popular methods in psychology and the social sciences do: they systematically short-circuit understanding and prevent us from taking responsibility for what we would learn if we were paying attention to what’s going on around us.

Is there some kind of cultural blind spot or fear of success or hypochondria or inability to galvanize leadership that we need to overcome? Or is this just the herky-jerky haphazard tragicomic nature of evolution, maturation, and development?

The question might seem to involve asking what we can do to promote wider appreciation for what’s at stake, for what’s possible, for the billions of individual life opportunities lost with each passing year in which nothing or far too little is done. After all, since proven methods are so routinely ignored and underused, isn’t it natural to suppose that motivation or awareness need building up?

But I think a huge movement has already been underway for years, and needs to be given a focus, a set of boundary or mediating objects, as a catalyst. That would seem in fact to be the message of Paul Hawken’s 2007 book, Blessed Unrest.

So my answers to these questions (in multiple blog posts over the last few years, such as here) focus on how to channel existing will, motivation, energy and resources in new ways. Philosophically, this is a matter of the playful absorption of nonCartesian unified subject-objects in a flow of meaningful relationships. Economically, it is a matter of creating markets for intangible assets (human, social, and natural capital). The idea is to harness the profit motive for growing meaningful, productive relationships. If you’re not growing all forms of capital, you cannot make a profit. To have a fair basis for determining whether capital is being created or destroyed, we need better measurement, better theory, better instruments, more systematic methods, all of which are in hand. As I’ve pointed out in the past, there is a huge entrepreneurial opportunity in the fact that the availability of the needed tools is not widely recognized.

So to say it out loud one more time, the goal is for social capitalist markets’ accountable and efficient living capital to displace the socialist dead capital externalized markets that are not accountable and that are so wildly ineffective in matching supply with demand.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2013). Imagining education tailored to assessment as, for, and of learning: Theory, standards, and quality improvement. Assessment and Learning, 2, in press.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2013). On the potential for improved measurement in the human and social sciences. In Q. Zhang & H. Yang (Eds.), Pacific Rim Objective Measurement Symposium 2012 Conference Proceedings (pp. 1-11). Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag.

Stenner, A. J., Fisher, W. P., Jr., Stone, M., & Burdick, D. (2013, August). Causal Rasch models. Frontiers in Psychology: Quantitative Psychology and Measurement, 4(536), 1-14.

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