You Get What You Measure

“You get what you measure.” This trope guided discussions in many measurement plans in my corporate life. Once a company tracks a performance indicator, then employees start to change their behavior so that they look good in relation to the measure. Taken to extremes, poorly designed measures may have unintended consequences. The story outlined in Freakonomics about Chicago Public School teachers who helped students cheat on a high-stakes achievement exam is an example. It is important to choose measures carefully.

I was reminded of the importance of measurement in a more positive light yesterday. I spent a chunk of the day reviewing tenure portfolios of faculty up for renewal of their third-year contracts. These portfolios are a collection and reflection of a faculty member’s contributions to the College, our community, and our students. The most important section in the portfolio for me is the evaluation of teacher performance and the faculty member’s reaction to the evaluations.

We have at least three faculty and administrators observe and evaluate each tenure candidate, filling out a three-page evaluation form accompanied by a narrative that outlines what occurred in the class and the faculty member’s strengths and areas for improvement. This is followed by a narrative in which the faculty member reflects upon and responds to the critiques. The form measures items such as how well the faculty member defines the learning objectives for the day, includes all students in the lesson, identifies students struggling with concepts, and engages in active learning techniques.

After reviewing ten portfolios this past week, I developed a sense of what various department chairs and administrators value in their evaluations. I was, in a way, evaluating the evaluators. I know which faculty are “easy graders” of their peers and which are especially stringent in their evaluations.  I developed a sense of what we were measuring and what is important to us. Some value the adherence to firm control of the learning environment. Others value active learning strategies, while others push variety during the class period.

More important were the faculty responses. The quality of responses varied. While I sent at least one back to allow the faculty member to take another cut, over half were exceptionally thoughtful and self-reflective. One faculty member almost brought me to tears when, in explaining why she had not pushed harder for all students in her class to participate, shared her own story of being a painfully shy student with a rich internal dialogue during her classes living in terror of being called upon. Overwhelmingly, I was struck by the passion, thoughtfulness, and care our faculty are taking to become better teachers.

We get what we measure. Based on my reading of faculty tenure portfolios, it seems we are measuring the right things. I am encouraged that our new faculty tenure process will emphasize even more the craft and development of strong teaching. We need to get the word out. CCC is not just about a great value for our students’ education dollar. It is a unique institution in higher education that measures and values great teaching. Coupled with our renewed focus on student success, we are developing a value proposition to students that will be distinctive and attractive.

We get what we measure. Let’s keep it up.




Published by Don Laackman

Leader with non-profit, higher education, and private-sector consulting experience.

One thought on “You Get What You Measure

  1. My philosophy exactly. We devote, time, attention and money on those things we value. When I was first entrusted with the role of supervisor of special education teachers, I was amazed by the experienced teacher who shared with me that after having taught more than thirty years in Illinois public schools at both the secondary and elementary levels that my observation of her in the classroom was a first for her. She was appreciative of the time spent with her in observing and processing my impressions of her teaching that she wept.
    My eyes became very moist also.

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