Do we only believe things when there are numbers to match it?

In a recent post, Leslie stated that as a teacher, you were only considered “good” if your students performed at certain levels on standardized tests. Obviously, a good teacher must be able to teach and get their students to a higher level. However, aren’t there other things that make a teacher good?

Or have we become obsessed with numbers?

When you buy something, are you looking at how many people rated it, and how high the star rating is?

Think about your own life: have you recently determined how good something is, or isn’t, by the numbers attached to it?

I know I’m a stats girl: I can’t help but look at things and begin calculating. My wheels just start turning. I automatically begin ascertaining different ways of looking at things. But because it’s my brain, and not a computer, I always include the human factor: people lie, and people are very likely to follow a crowd. These are two things that, as of now, computers can’t tally. Computers spit out info based on what’s given- sort of like garbage in, garbage out, if you get my drift…

Like, some teachers only teach you what you need to get through a standardized test: they might not impart the thousands of other lessons that I think a “good” teacher should do.

Sure- all the students got average or above average on Common Core. But did they learn the building blocks of critical thinking? Or did they memorize tricks?

We seem to rely on numbers because numbers mean something can be “proven”. There is fact but not fake…

But is that an accurate assessment?

Can numbers show what we WANT them to show?

Do numbers lie?

Discuss:

72 thoughts on “Numbers Don’t Lie

      1. A saying I often heard from my late great father was “figures don’t lie but liars figure.” Like many really good sayings this one has several sources for attribution. Many think it came from Mark Twain, who I’m pretty sure has been the source of many of the best! Digging deeper, though, I found this pre-Twain interpretation which speaks pretty well to what you’re talking about.

        The old saying is that “figures will not lie,” but a new saying is “liars will figure.” It is our duty, as practical statisticians, to prevent the liar from figuring; in other words, to prevent him from perverting the truth, in the interest of some theory he wishes to establish.

        It came from https://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/11/15/liars-figure/ which goes into a lot more detail on possible sources, meanings and uses than even I would want to pursue.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. This country has always been about numbers. At least it has been since after WWII . I grew up in the 1950’s. The space race had America trying to compete for the heavens. “We will get a man on the moon some day. “ THAT is what I grew up hearing in school. I wanted to hear music and see dance however, schools wanted more and more science and Math.
    Data was becoming data before technology even was technology. An excellent teacher is more than just math. It’s encouraging young people to think for themselves. Create for themselves.Art, music, poetry all have value.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Completely agree and you were my catalyst for thought for this blog. Alas, I’m dealing with a head cold, so my words are not quite as elegant as I’d like them to be

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I believe good teachers and coaches care more about their students than the numbers. In swimming, which is all about numbers like personal best times, a good coach develops character and gets the times as well.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. True. In my opinion a good teacher hits those marks but does so much more. My kids’ Latin teacher in high school was one of those special teachers, taking them to the Getty Museum, focusing on culture and character as well as preparing for them for the National Latin Exams. When the district tried to cut the Latin program, hundreds of parents including me, showed up at the board meeting. Latin was saved.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. The school board wanted to get rid of Latin at Palm Springs High because the other schools in the district didn’t offer Latin. They feel this need to make every school equal even if it means dumbing one down. Frustrating!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Performance numbers are just one of the reasons I chose to retire. Numbers came before patient care and education. We were told we couldn’t do both…be personable/informed and still get in and out in record time. I never changed my own standards, proved you could do both, but chose to leave anyway. I won’t support that type of corporate structure and financial greed.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It’s like that saying, “95% of all statistics are made up in the spot.”

    I try to find rating services, rather than just customer responses, when buying something I’m not familiar with. However, it ultimately comes down to trying it and seeing what I think of it.

    As far as teaching goes, I think there is far to much emphasis on teaching to the test and numbers than on more difficult-to-quantify learning outcomes.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I recently left a company (yes I’m part of the “big resignation”) that was obsessed with numbers. They collected all kinds of data and hired “data scientists” to spin the data into numbers so they could determine if the business was successful. Numbers are just an artificial man-made creation to make the people responsible feel good and prove they did a good job. Two of my 3 kids struggled with testing, but sit them down and ask them to “do” what they learned – smart as a whip. As for the 5-star reviews. I only read the 1-star reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think it is a healthy form of skepticism to not accept too quickly numbers that one is given as facts. With those numbers there comes an interpretation of what those numbers mean. Even if the numbers are accurate, the interpretation may be deceptive in various ways that make it difficult to find out the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Please don’t get me started on performance numbers. I am sick to death of having a customer serve rep ask me to please give them 5 stars because anything else isn’t acceptable for their boss. OMG. I might think you earned 5 stars in which case that’s fine. But if I don’t, now what do I do if I only feel your fair evaluation is less than 5 stars but you’ve been nice. I do read the reviews on products though, checking between lowest and highest in order to decide whether to purchase but I read the reviews as well so I know they’re not just some bot or spam.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Many years ago a board I sat on hired a company to do a healthcare needs assessment. When we met with the good folk who were receiving a bucket full of money for said assessment they went through their methods and what to expect. The last comment from the chairman to the company was – Just make sure the end results show such and such. When I did a stats course I learned that numbers can be skewed depending on polls one way or the other. I mean unless you are going to poll every single person the results cannot be called all that accurate. 😞

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I wish we weren’t a world tied to statistics, we’re so much more than the numbers show, and honestly I think it stifles our ability to not only teach but to learn, grow, think. Imagine if students were in charge of their own education, driven by their interests, observations, talents…our potential is radically barricaded by a antiquated system. Am I ranting? Sorry, C

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m contributing tax money (numbers) to the health service. I don’t want to know how nice the nurses are or how they treat me with dignity (because most of them aren’t, and they don’t) I want to know how many people they treat and how long the waiting list is (numbers). Same with kids and teachers. A lot of teachers are just in it to pass the time until pension, kids are there to pass exams and get to university and earn lots of money afterwards (numbers). With a couple of exceptions my kids were taught by teachers, but were educated by me.

    I have often heard the argument that numbers don’t tell the full story, but rarely by people who are actually reaching target. I can tell you from experience as a salesman that numbers don’t necessarily reflect your skill or true contribution, but they did inspire me to keep working on the tough days, and they did keep me working until the end of the year and the final commission statement. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points as always. I do hate the 1-5 surveys I get for literally everything I do. I’ve begun responding that I’ve given something a zero because I resent being asked to fill out a survey card….

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Unless every possible moderating variable has been taken into account, there is always the chance a statistic will “lie”. An approach I enjoy is to look at the stats, if one must, and then assess how it feels, which to me is more important than a stat.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Another captivating topic.
    Yes, going strictly by numbers I think is wrong. Don’t get me started on standardized testing!
    I know there has to be some form of measurement but…..

    What you said is so true. There is so much more to teaching than just the basics so that they can do well on tests.

    Numbers are good, stats can be helpful but they can cause a lot of problems too.
    Especially the numbers on the scale when you go to weigh yourself. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. When it comes to standardized tests, numbers are straight up bulls**t.
    Those numbers only show how well a student has been taught to take a test.
    Learning is completely different for each student and teacher. And cannot be boiled down to testing numbers.
    The fact that teachers pay and jobs depend upon these test scores is criminal! And it’s just as bad for students.
    *apologetically gets down from soapbox*

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I want to add my comment to the many who think it is wrong to tie a teacher’s salary and performance review into test scores. Yes, as a teacher, I wanted my students to do well on the tests, but not at the expense of learning how to think both logically and creatively. Also, it should be considered that not all classes are the same. If a teacher is assigned students with learning and/or discipline problems because the teacher has a reputation for working well with them and their families, then how is that going to be reported on or be reflected by a standardized test? Will it show that a child who hated school, can now read and loves to, despite the fact that they are still below grade level? Will it show that a child whose parents are in jail or work three jobs feels loved and safe at school? There are so many factors in education that those in the ivory towers or who have been “promoted” to administration clearly don’t understand.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. My favorite three teachers in the world…I don’t remember what they taught me in terms of language arts or math…it was how they treated me as a person…how they made me feel about myself…how they treated every one of us in class… Part of going to school is to be socialized. I was a shy kid. My teachers taught me the art of loving to learn…of making friends and treating everyone and myself well…of caring when I or someone else was going off-track! They taught me so well, that I’ve never stopped learning or wanting to learn. They’ve given me an innate faith in humanity even when the news begs to differ. Thank you and blessings to Mrs. Finley, Mrs. Barbee and Mrs. Taliaferro for making me want to learn, to be curious, to care and to believe in myself and others and this world of ours! How do you measure any of that in stats? I haven’t a clue. I get that there’s gotta be standardized testing because not every teacher belongs in teaching. Not every teacher understands what they are teaching or even wants to know. Not every teacher knows how to reach a child. Not every teacher cares. For some, it’s just a paycheck. For those who actively teach because it’s a calling and they love what they do, yet they have to put up with SOOOO MUCH…and then some? Thank each of you! You’ve made this world a better place and earned your angel wings! Mona

    Liked by 2 people

  16. The subject matter and source is important, but when a compiler’s point-of-view can skew outcome even without intent, the value of numbers isn’t easy to define. Lies, lies and damn statistics comes to mind 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I agree. Im a stats person myself but numbers aren’t everything. Something can look good on paper but you must add in the human factor. Just like in marriage, on paper 2 people seem very compatible but there is no chemistry. You can’t calculate chemistry. It’s either there or it’s not. And as for teachers, I remember my teachers by what wisdom they imparted on me over the years. Those teachers who only taught me what would get me grades are long forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

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