Charles Goodhart is an economist who came up with this principal: When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. Simply put when numbers becomes more important than the purpose behind it then numbers can become misleading or stagnant.
Within education we fall into this trap when tracking certain kinds of data. We optimize what we measure for. Or we teach to the measurement tool. For example when we put too much emphasis on tracking students’ words per minute read and lose sight of the purpose for tracking this measure. This leads to kids who are mostly focused on reading fast and forgetting to think and feel as they read.
The purpose for tracking words read per minute is to use it as an indicator that says, hey this kid is not performing at the same level as his peers, let’s stop and figure out what could be causing this. We should not be simply set a goal saying I will read _____ words in one minute and only focusing on rate. Don’t forget the purpose.
Words per minute is one indicator that a student could be struggling with reading. Reading success is not about speed alone.
I cringed when I saw ads on Instagram for a word game. The ad promoted it by saying something like playing this game every day will improve your reading speed and make you smarter. Ugh! That is a very misleading ad and when our teenagers see that ad what message does it send to them!
As a Reading Specialist in my district I come across so many kids who think reading is about word calling and speed, instead of meaning and feeling, along with accuracy and rate. Reading words too quickly can hinder comprehension as much as slow laborious reading does.
In todays word driven by numbers and the competition created by the publicly released test scores, we often stop teaching the micro or atomic habits that need to be instilled in readers. There has been a swing to undervalue anything ephemeral or quantitative that is harder to quantify. We mistakenly begin to think the only factors that matter are the ones we can measure and or attempt to measure on an assessment where conversation does not take place. Or give a grade to, so we can easily have accessible data to look at. Data is only worth looking at when you can identify the purpose behind it, and how it fits into the bigger process of reading.
Sometimes this leads to putting more value on visible reading task that students can put into graphic organizers. Simply identifying the visible aspects of reading instruction is not enough and leads kids to identify reading as something you do without much thinking or feeling.
I implore you to consider how you can apply Goodhart’s law to our data driven educational word. Data can be an essential part of high performing schools when used with purpose, not as a showcase of numbers. It can be satisfying for students and teacher to track things like words per minute and increases in test scores, but we cannot be asking students or districts to have those be their only goals. They also need to be setting smaller goals that can help create habits out of those internal as well as the outwardly visible processes readers use.
I would love to hear from you how you have seem educators fall into this trap and how you have seen them overcome it. Troy