As 50CAN’s online communications manager, I have an admittedly geeky addiction to metrics. Email open rates. Click rates. Unique web visitors. Twitter klout.
I use all of these numerical indicators to assess how “healthy” 50CAN’s online presence is and to come up with strategies for making that presence even more robust. (And my supervisors use these same metrics to evaluate my own performance.)
When taken together I think metrics are extremely helpful for my work, but I’d be hard-pressed to pick just one capable of accurately summing up the state of 50CAN’s online communications. As a general rule, using only one metric to measure success is dangerous because it paints a one-dimensional picture of what’s actually happening. As Richard Barth, president and CEO of the KIPP Foundation and 50CAN board member, warned us during campaign boot camp: any organization that focuses on only one metric of success is doomed to fail.
The Big Apple is the latest poster child for the peril of being single-metric-minded. The city has been pointing to the huge leap in its high school graduation rate over the last few years—from 46.5 percent in 2005 to 61 percent in June —as a sign that its schools have rapidly improved. But it turns out that this increase in graduation rates has come with another, less flattering increase: the number of students needing remediation upon graduation. The percentage of graduates who need remediation in all three subjects when they enter LaGuardia or other City University of New York community colleges has gone from 15.4 percent in 2005 (1,085) to 22.6 percent in 2010 (2,812 students).
Students like Nikita Thomas are rightfully disgruntled: “Passing the Regents don’t mean nothing,” Thomas says. “The main focus in high school is to get you to graduate; it makes the school look good. They get you in and get you out.”
The lesson here is that you can’t look to any one metric as an overall indicator of success. Increased graduation rates are only worth celebrating if the kids graduating leave high school prepared for the next step, and vice versa.
It’s no secret that ed reformers love data. As we like to say, “we advocate for data and the data advocates for us.” But you have to have the proper quality and quantity of data for it to be useful.
At 50CAN we believe in measuring multiple metrics. When we published reports assessing the state of public education in Rhode Island and Minnesota, for example, we looked at a number of things: math and reading proficiency, the size of ethnic and socio-economic achievement gaps, and international ranking, to name a few.
Whether we’re talking about online engagement or educational outcomes, we know that success isn’t one-dimensional. So we shouldn’t look for it as if it were.
Image taken from Flickr user GonchoA under a Creative Commons license.