Re: the right to pursue excellence (OBE)

Dbyates@aol.com
Fri, 9 May 1997 13:39:18 -0400 (EDT)

I would like to jump in here on the definition of Outcome Based Education
because I worked for awhile with a superintendent who is an expert on this. I
am not advocating for or against it but want to throw out what I learned from
him about what it is. In his case he was for it because the California
educational code is process based and specifies exactly what steps teachers
must take to teach. As he put it, this was using common means from which you
get uncommon ends. That is not all kids react the same to the common means so
end up at different places. The idea of outcome based is that you define ends
and leave the means up to the individuals leading to common ends from
uncommon means. However, this does not mean that everyone is *expected* to
reach the same end.

The three terms that have to be understood are "assessment", "standard", and
"rubric". The assessment is indeed a measurement of what has taken place.
Sudbury Valley in doing the study of their graduates was doing an assessment.

In the case of OBE you do assess against a standard which is defined as an
"exemplar" of the thing you are assessing. We use standards in all sorts of
things. For instance a ruler is made by comparing it against a set of
measurements held at a particular place - the standard against which all
measurements are made. In sports we might take the best basketball player we
can think of and say that is the standard. This does not imply that everyone
has to be the standard. It just gives a common reference point for
measurement.

A "rubric" is a matrix we use to determine where the thing or activity being
measured is on the way to the standard. We build the rows by breaking down
the standard into its componen parts. For instance, we might say that in
determining a great basketball player we need to look at his shooting
ability, rebound ability, speed, endurance, and so on. The columns are then
levels of attainment on that particular factor. For instance we might use
five levels so for each one we need to define what reaching that level might
be. For shooting this might be the number of points per game ranging from 10
points for a level 1 to 30 points for a level 5. Speed might be rated in time
to run the length of the floor. And so on until all the squares are filled
in. If you define enough factors carefully enough you can actually get quite
objectively observable definitions for even quite subjective things such as
PE, music and art. The people who are really into assessment have become
quite good at doing this.

The point of doing it is of course so that you can see how far a person has
come on the various factors so that they have a sense of what they have
learned and where to place their effort. You do not have to at all expect
someone to reach the standard. Very few of us would aspire to top level
basketball prowess. However, if we wanted to be a pro, we would. Or if we
wanted to be a college player we might know we had to reach a level 4 on all
factors. And so on. Sudbury used a number of factors in looking at their
graduates. They did not, however set any standard or any measurement against
it. I mention it only to point out the use of factors.

It is true that it is quite a lot of effort to set up the rubrics and quite a
lot of effort to measure against them. However, since you are setting the
standard at the exemplar level it is the same for all situations so you only
have to determine the rubric once and it fits virtually all situations. All
that changes are your expectations or your use of it. You can easily use it
with no expectations at all but only to find out how far you have come and
then you can decide if you want to go farther. This is another whole issue
around goal setting and its usefulness in improving in anything.

Hope this has not been too long, but I think it is important with something
like this that folks get all whacked out about to be clear on what it really
is so that our opinions are on its usefullness and are not clouded by
mistakes in our understanding of the elements of the system.

Don Yates
dbyates@aol.com