I confess I never heard about Seth Godin. Then I read these interesting reflections and concluded I have to learn more about him. He is an author and a high-tech entrepreneur. He wrote the following wise thoughts, which are a direct hit on our current obsession with test scores. The scores are a proxy for good education. Our policymakers are satisfied to get the scores, even if the students don’t get a good education.

Godin writes:

Avoiding the false proxy trap.

Sometimes, we can’t measure what we need to measure, so we invent a proxy, something that’s much easier to measure and stands in as an approximation.

TV advertisers, for example, could never tell which viewers would be impacted by an ad, so instead, they measured how many people saw it. Or a model might not be able to measure beauty, but a bathroom scale is a handy stand in.

A business person might choose cash in the bank as a measure of his success, and a book publisher, unable to easily figure out if the right people are engaging with the book, might rely instead on a rank on a single bookseller list.

One last example: the non-profit organisation that uses money raised as a proxy for difference made.

You’ve already guessed the problem. Once you find the simple proxy and decide to make it go up, there are lots of available tactics that have nothing at all to do with improving the thing you set out to achieve in the first place. When we fall in love with a proxy, we spend our time improving the proxy instead of focusing on our original (more important) goal instead. {Why do I keep thinking 5×25?}

Gaming the system is never the goal. The goal is the goal.