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Not Everything That Counts Can Be Counted
Jun 2018

Kevin Jess, The Geelong College Senior School Leader of Learning writes in the latest edition of Ad Astra,

"In researching for this article on topics relating to measuring learning outcomes I found myself reading an article by Dave Mason, Principal of strategic design company Multiple Inc. In this article Mason (2013) spoke of the Yerkes-Dodson Law: Optimal anxiety where the measurement of a business task is designed to attempt to stimulate people (through either positive or negative stress) to achieve the mental and emotional state of peak performance. This law also implies that if a business cannot accurately measure the results of a specific activity, that activity is not likely to survive long (i.e. management is going to cut that program!).

Yet Mason went on in this article to challenge this notion, and for me this is where my mind engages as we, in education, evaluate how we are ‘measuring learning’ and that is “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” This quote regularly attributed to Albert Einstein, but in fact originating with sociologist William Bruce Cameron (1963) addresses the notion that anything that cannot be readily quantified is valueless.

More fully explored by Mason in his article, Cameron’s statement says, “It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” (as cited in Mason, 2013) He is talking about measuring human behaviour, and that is where things get a little fuzzy."

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