Accepted Paper:

The Struggle to Measure 'Teacher Quality'  


Radhika Gorur (Deakin University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores contemporary US and global struggles to quantify ‘teacher quality’ and the trials being faced by these efforts in a range of arenas, including the media and the courts. It contributes to understandings of how numbers are being made and unmade in contemporary education policy.

Paper long abstract:

Associated with improved student outcomes and trillions of dollars in GDP, 'teacher quality' has become a 'high stakes' issue, and efforts to measure and improve it are rife in contemporary policy. Focusing on 'value added measures' (VAM) in the US and using data from the media, think tank reports, academic papers and policy documents, this paper traces efforts to quantify teacher quality and the trials these efforts are facing. Conceptualising these measures as 'interesting objects' (Asdal, 2011; Gorur, 2015), it traces how they draw in a range of unexpected actors, and redistribute effort and expertise among psychometricians, testing agencies, teachers' unions, parliamentary debates and the courts, to name a few. Interestingly, even as 'value added measures' are gaining policy influence, the American Statistical Association itself has issued a cautionary note about their validity.

This paper draws on concepts from sociology of measurement (Woolgar, 1991; Gorur, 2014) and engages with current STS work on the making and unmaking of numbers (e.g., forthcoming special issue of STS, guest edited by Verran and Lippert), and draws upon, and extends, Asdal's (2011) work on 'interesting objects'. It also extends my on-going efforts to bring attention to the performative nature of measurements (Knorr-Cetina, 1999) and to deflect attention from simply debunking numbers by focusing on their productive capacities.

The paper directly relates to the Track's interest in the work of different measurement techniques in the productions of 'evidence', and the engagement of different actors and the re/distributions of 'expertise' among them through such measurements.

Panel T045
New Collective Practices of Measurement, Monitoring and Evidence